October 20, 2010

Where are the leaders?

You lead. No, you lead . . .

The post-season partings from premier pipe bands seem to increase every year. What’s perhaps more interesting is that these leadership vacancies appear to be increasingly difficult to fill. Pipe-Majors and Lead-Drummers resign and, more often than not these days, there’s no ready successor. Bands usually have to go searching for willing leaders. Some have even resorted to advertising.

Was this always the case? Not so long ago, it seems to me, every pipe band had numerous pipers and drummers looking for their shot at leadership. When there was a chance to become a P-M or L-D of a top-grade band, people would leap at the opportunity. Now it seems like talented players with potential leadership skills have to be persuaded to take on the job.

And the job today is ever more complex and difficult, even though the rewards are pretty much exactly the same as they were in 1947. Never mind having a great ear and musical talent, leading a modern top-grade band demands extraordinary “man-management” skills. Today’s Grade 1 pipe-majors and lead-drummers are supervising sensitive egos of skilled players who often would just as soon go elsewhere if you dare to look at them sideways.

Their role demands that they deal with terrific pressure to produce a professional-quality band while still trying to enjoy their hobby. It’s a full-time job that has to be completed during so-called free-time. In truth, managing people, instruments, music, logistics and who-knows-what-else is a full-time job that has the exact same return as ever before.

There’s no money in it. Unless you’re an extraordinarily rare case – like, for example, Terry Tully, Terry Lee, Richard Parkes or Bill Livingstone – there’s inevitably a coup d’état awaiting you down the road. You now have to manage twice as many players. The glory is whatever self-satisfaction you can derive from doing something well and, all too often, it’s a thankless job. Every year the investment is more but the return is the same. Further, you can do your absolute best and wholeheartedly believe in and love your band, only to have some anonymous, incompetent, cowardly idiot skewer you on the net. Who needs it?

But perhaps the two situations go hand-in-hand. The reluctant leader is almost always the best. He or she doesn’t pine for the job, but must be convinced to do it and, when coaxed to give it a try, all too often turns out to be really good at it.

By that token, beware the piper or drummer who’s looking for a leadership gig. There are of course exceptions, but one can’t help but notice those who bounce from band to band, looking for the next great thing. And why does the next great thing never happen for them? That’s right, because they’re leading it.

So maybe it’s understandable that natural born leaders today have to be discovered. They have to be cajoled and coaxed and persuaded to just try it, to tide the band over just for one season. They step up to help not because they want to help their ego, but because they want to help the band.
And with luck and a lot of care and feeding, they’ll learn to love the job and not run screaming from the ordeal they never really wanted in the first place.


  1. Those of us in various management positions are seeing more and more discussion of generational differences. Most of those in leadership positions are still Boomers, but GenX, GenY and now the very different mellenials(sp) are appearing more and more. I would guess part of this band leadership issue you’ve observed can be accounted for by these generational differences, but certainly not all.

    This reminds me of a quite famous quote from Samual Clemens, to paraphrase, I left home at 17. When I returned at 25, it was amazing how much smarter my father had become.


  2. “By that token, beware the piper or drummer who’s looking for a leadership gig. There are of course exceptions, but one can’t help but notice those who bounce from band to band, looking for the next great thing. And why does the next great thing never happen for them? That’s right, because they’re leading it.”

    I think this statement is a little backhanded and entirely unnecessary. You’re saying that those who are eager to be leaders are going to be inherently bad at leading because they are not reserved. Its the “sensitive egos of skilled players” that lead to the demise of the eager leader. All to often egos will clash and players won’t cooperate with the leader OR the other musicians, leading to the demise of the pipe/drum corps. Yes, there are people you should be weary about, but to go as far to say that people looking for leadership positions are going to be more often than not, bad.

    The success of a leader isn’t always solely based on their skill. As a musician underneath a lead tip or pipe major we need to be open in criticism and direction. In addition, we need to be able to offer up our own skills and experiences to assist leaders in the areas we may see as their weakness. Teamwork, a crucial part of any musical ensemble, requires cooperation between the leadership and other musicians. Its not about the leader’s ego, and its not about our egos; its about working in an ensemble to achieve superior musical quality, and put on a damn good show.

  3. Ahh yes..The ego problem. Let’s look at that and how it relates to the leaders in our little world.
    It’s a difficult thing to do, but when entering a band hall, one really needs to check their ego at the door. As was stated earlier, it is most often teamwork that creates success. All too freequently, we give credit solely to the PM of the band without acknowledging the contribution of others. What about the poor lead tip who may have composed all of the scores, perhaps with the help of other pipe and drum corp members? And not to forget (as if we could lately), the contribution of the mid section? And what of the other composer/arrangers in the band who more often thatn not, contribute tune and structure for the brilliant medleys that we here from tiime to time? It really irritates peoples’ egos when their contributions are taken for granted, and worse yet, if the leader claims sole credit for the creative work of others, trouble is definitely in the road ahead.
    Effective leadership requires that this be taken into account in order to keep a team together, whether from the point of view of players or leaders having to “pursue other interests”. It really is all about mutual respect and fair play.
    To that point, the sooner we get rid of the military style behavour in the conduct of the bands, the better (you know, “I’m Pipe Sergeant and that make me better than you, maggot!). Or “You’re new, so we’re not going to pay attention to any ideas that you may have!” (even though one may have graduated from the Juilliard School of Music).
    The natural leader rules by authority and mutual respect, not by cohersion or threats or being appointed due to seniority.



Forgotten Password?