March 16, 2009

Turn and face the strain

The pipes|drums Polls have been going on for more than a decade now, and they’re all archived here. It’s sometimes a challenge to think of something new, and readers have saved my mind-blank more than once with a good suggestion. I always look forward to seeing the results. Even though the poll isn’t scientific, I’m pretty sure that the results are at least reflective of the overall opinion of the world’s pipers and drummers.

The recent one that asked “How many times should a person by allowed to change bands in a year?” brought another surprising result, with some 56 per cent of people saying that they feel that pipers and drummers should be permitted to switch bands only once in a year.

Time was when changing bands was a fairly major event. As is the case in major team sports, it’s now rare in the pipe band world to find people who spend their entire career with one band. But over the last decade especially the idea of competing in the off-season with a band in the other hemisphere has taken hold with some. Pipers and drummers from New Zealand or Australia might compete with a UK or Canadian band at the World’s, just as folks from the northern hemisphere might hook up with an Antipodean band for their championship, as was the case at least week’s New Zealand Nationals.

It’s all perfectly within the rules. I’ve played with bands that have benefited from such guest players, and I have no particular stand on the issue. But, it appears that a majority of pipers and drummers do. By limiting a person to only one transfer in the year, it means that the back-and-forth approach would be difficult to manage. Once a player changed bands, that would be it for the next 12 months.

If such a rule were enacted, I wonder how it might change things. Would it make the pipe band world more loyal or less fun?


  1. An interesting point! I don’t like to see transfers / moves happening ‘mid season’ either in sports or pipe bands, which is why, in the recent poll, I voted for ‘once a year’. However, as your blog points out, I did not think this through thoroughly! With the pipe band seasons on either side of the hemisphere being at different times, a one transfer a year rule would perhaps not be the ideal way to ensure players do not transfer between bands during the season. Perhaps a system with 2 transfer windows could serve everyones needs! Say transfers can only be submitted in March – April and October – November, this would surely mean that a player in a British band could theoreticaly play for their British band through the RSPBA season, move to Australia / New Zealand etc.. for their season, playing with a band over there, return ‘back home’ and re-join their British band in time for the start of the RSPBA season.

  2. You wrote:

    “Once a player changed bands, that would be it for the next 12 months. If such a rule were enacted, I wonder how it might change things. Would it make the pipe band world more loyal or less fun?”

    There’s your next survey idea!

  3. I don’t know what the R.S.P.B.A. rules are now but as I recall the rules were that when you signed with a band in the U.K. it was for the competition season. The rule could be changed and it was then left up to the discretion of the specific band’s pipe-major whether or not a player would be allowed to change bands. The ruling in one sense was good. Band’s were smaller years ago and needed the assurance and comfort of knowing the band could sustain itself for that season. If that ruling is still in place then the U.K. band’s may be at a disadvantage but then again there are band’s from overseas who have no direct R.S.P.B.A. membership and so there is no actual control re their band membership.

  4. I hadn’t realised it was possible to catch the major championships at those different times of year in Northern ansd Southern hemispheres, but that seems like a great idea for communication among bands, sharing of ideas around the world, and everybody’s musical and personal development. But it seems that playing with more than two bands a year would perhaps be too much chopping and changing. I see from my own Grade 4 level band efforts, that loyalty, stability of membership, personal relations within the band, and the development of the playing together dynamic – these things are altered or changed if even one person leaves or joins the band. So at the highest level it must be even more important to keep personnel reasonably stable. So I’d be in favour of playing with 2 bands, esp if on opposite sides of the world, but not more than that. That way you could keep the loyalty factor, but have fun too!

  5. The ideas expressed below have merit. The only reservation that I personally have with this type of parachuting is that it is fine as long as visiting players are enhansing an existing lineup and not not being used to displace home players merely for the sake of winning. This type of behaviour can actually be destructive to the development of bands as opposed to encouraging growth and advancement. To go to ridiculous extreme for illustration purpose, suppose the entire lineup from a top notch Grade I northern hemisphere band was to drop in on a New Zealand and displace all of the home players in a bid for that local band “name” to win contests. How would that help the local scene?
    I suppose in the end logistics and finance would limit the number of guest players. I only hope that this activity is done in a positive and constructive spirit which encourages the development of bands and their home players and not their destruction.

  6. This is a very interesting issue. In Australia (as I assumed in every place – more on this later), we register with bands and need clearances (minimum of 30 days) to move from one to another. The band doing the ‘clearing’ is essentially the one being left, and then the association ratifies it. There have been situations where band member X has not been granted a clearance to a new band for, perhaps, having outstanding debts for uniform or whatnot.
    As I said, I assumed – incorrectly – that this was pretty well universal. We do know, however, that as Australians (APBA registered bands) competing in New Zealand (RNZPBA) the Kiwis don’t really care which band you are registered with at home. We had a player who is a member of another local band travel with us to compete. He is in the process of being cleared from his current band permanently, but that hasn’t happened yet, nor did it matter in NZ. When remarking on the clearances idea in the NZ Pipe Band Forums, I got a flat out laugh from a Kiwi, because – as I learnt – NZ has no registration/clearance system at all! Theoretically, and if I understand it correctly, in NZ, one can play for five bands in five contests in the one season, if desired (granted, an extreme example).
    So, in New Zealand, in the top grades, I saw players from Field Marshal, SFU, Inverary, Boghall, LA Scots plus Canberra Burns Club and City of Hawthorn (Australia)… and these are just the ones I know about, I’m sure there were more. This is great for we antipodeans to say the least. Going the other way, these players have the satisfaction of playing at the top level ‘out of season’ and imparting some of their knowledge to others. On the flip side, in Australia we have seen examples of top bands that are so dependent on imported or guest players, that when they perform/compete, they are a mere shadow of their ‘Worlds’ selves, which is a pity.
    Going back to local registration: we have been running a rule that allows a player of one band (higher graded) to register as a tutor with another (lower graded) competing band; to the point the player can be wearing their main band’s uniform whilst competing if time doesn’t permit a change. I’m not sure if any other associations work this way. Far from leading to ridiculous ‘stacking’ in bands, I believe it has been a good thing to promote development in lower graded bands. As yet, no-one has imported a ‘tutor’ for the purpose. Perhaps a matter of time?
    Personally I think the cross-pollination in bands – as described in the NZ Champs case – is a good thing. Bands that rely on imports from elsewhere; this isn’t good. Band members flitting between bands within their associations… surely not a good thing, and that they apparent can in some places (NZ, at least), can’t be good either. At times, however, there may be legitimate reasons for someone to move bands (as is the case with my band to which I alluded earlier)… but this is a one-off. I’m sure the poll results are, to a degree, more about a quick reaction, than a completely thought through response. I probably would have voted for ‘one band change per year’ myself, but then…

  7. Andrew :

    With retirement looming for the wife & I…our hope is to transplant ourselves down to Florida every winter season (via the Airstream..) & then to return to Ontario each year for the summers in the not to distant future.

    Of course, I’m not alone in this sentiment (winters here being as endearing as they are..) & so in the days to come I’m hopeful to become active with some other similarly minded & competrition oriented people in Florida.

    There’s a wee band in Sarasota that’s tweeked my interest & I suspect that they may not be alone to enjoy the benefits of northern pipers & drummers as many of us of boomer status steadily morf into comfortablly retired & coconut palms begin to look much better than snow covered pines.

    Perhaps the associations should give consideration to the needs of those of us who have elected to become “Holiday Highlanders” & as such will be changing kilts every 6mos due to latitude !!

    Paul Ouellette,
    Windsor, Ont.

  8. Transferring between NZ and Australian bands is necessary to some extent in some cases. Auckland & District won the NZ nationals with 13 pipers, beating as many as 22 pipers in some other grade 1 bands. On the day, accuracy of tuning and playing, reed selection and instrument set-up meant that their corps of 13 was a lot more powerful than the bigger bands. In terms of ‘ring-ins’, this was a case of getting a viable band on the park that could execute the PM’s vision, not stacking it with gun players, going on with a visually impressive 20+ pipers, and then hoping it all ‘clicks’ on the day. Big numbers are just that, especially if people have flown in mid week to compete on the weekend.

    Personally, I’d like to see a cap on numbers in Grade 1 bands, especially piping. Over time, good players would get sick of ‘warming the pine’ simply because they are numbers 21,22, 23 and 24 on the roster and move to bands that have the room for them.

    Internationally speaking, band-hopping highlights the lemming-like behaviour of pipe bands. We really can’t break ranks until one of the ‘big boys’ does it first. Then we all blindly jump in and then wonder why the cream still rises to the top. I’m sure many top PM’s would love to play a top-class 16-18 pipers, rather than the 22-26 we regularly see. I’m sure some do this because of perception and the fear that some people hear with their eyes. They’re probably also secretly relieved that the bands just below them, who could do better with a few less players, are following suit and increasing the variables, risks and unison problems that come with bigger numbers.

    Cap the numbers and you’ll soon see a distinction between those who want a tune, first and foremost, and those who like to wear a certain uniform. you’ll also see a higher standard across the boards, maybe even in Grades 2 and 3 as well.

  9. I would like to see more gr1 players helping out the gr3 and 4 bands, so belonging to two bands in different grades should not be an issue concidering gr1 bands play at far fewer contests than the smaller bands.

    The old idea of a gr1 band having a static list comes from the days when players were all central and the idea of bringing in a player from outside was not well looked upon.

    Is it time to adopt new concepts or at least be flexable with those that want to put in the extra effort to play?

  10. Andrew – in your very first paragraph you stated that the poll results are archived for the last 10 years. When you get a “writer’s block” moment for a new poll, I think it would be interesting to re-post a poll from 10 or so years ago and see if the response is different. Otherwise, these polls tend to capture a snapshot sentiment and are not particularly useful.

    If you captured CHANGES in sentiment over a period of time, that would allow you to track trending in opinions which might actually allow your polls to be put to good use by those in a position to do so. Just a thought.

    Jim Ryan

  11. Hi Andrew,
    Perhaps a topic would be the use of technology when judging. What about using digital recordings of a competitor’s performance (one with a judge adding oral comments during the performance rather than writing a score sheet and another of just the performance without comments so the performance could be heard without any distractions)? Judges could also use a laptop to keep a record of numerical scores in the various categories (attack, tone, tuning, etc.) rather than having to do this on paper. Competitors would then get a printout along with a recording of their performance with and without the judge’s comments. It would give more information to the competitor and be much faster than writing comments down.

    There are other possibilities as well. A games committee could provide a print out of all of the individual results with the breakdowns in the various sets of criteria and make recordings of all of the performances available for people to compare. The results could also be sent digitally via the internet to the RSPBA for scrutinizing and record keeping if this was needed. No more problems with judges not providing up to date score sheets and being put on suspension. Competitors could download recordings and results from a website or do it directly from a computer using a portable MP3 player or laptop. With the popularity of Youtube recordings and on-line forums and publications such as Pipes/Drums, this seems like a logical next step in using technology.


  12. Hi Jim — Great suggestion. I have done that from time-to-time, and a historian or two have said that the polls will be an invaluable resource for piping/drumming researchers of the future . . . the more serious questions, of course.

  13. Although I’m a loyal, change-bands-about-once-a-decade kind of guy, I see little issue with people changing bands. Most people won’t within a season, so I think it’s limited impact. Hadn’t thought about the north/south hemisphere thing – makes sense to me, no problem. My only concern would be changing bands “within an association”, let’s say, during the competition season. That strikes me as a little against the whole idea of a “band” – a competition band anyway. However, I’ve seen it done, and there are always weird circumstances where it can be justified.

    To me, bottom line: I haven’t seen this as an extensive occurrence (perhaps it happens more than I’m aware). If it’s not happening too often, or isn’t creating issues, I say let it happen.



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