PP Editor’s Blog: Judging/Bellows Piping/Band Re-Grades

Mr McCombie-Smith made some interesting comments yesterday regarding manufacturers and judging in the 1890s. In more modern times this is something that has been an issue, but more so in the bands. The matter was quickly sorted a few years ago when the RSPBA introduced monitoring. Any judge giving preferential treatment to bands playing his instruments could be easily identified and the matter is no longer a concern. 

Unfortunately it has, indirectly, reared its disputatious head in the solo world where certain individuals have a problem with  judges joining a bench for a competition where their students may, or may not, be playing. On the face of it this does not seem a wise thing to do and many adjudicators decline on that basis. They are perfectly entitled to do so; but this does not make them in any way morally superior to those who are content to trust their own integrity, and that of their colleagues on a three-man bench, to come up with the correct result as they see and hear it on the day.

Moreover, the natural conclusion we come to, if we follow the logic of these legislators, must be that all results arrived at when a tutor is on a bench are corrupt. If we were then to go back through the prizelists of the recent past and beyond, there would be quite a few medals and trophies being handed back, decisions declared null and void -  a bit like the Olympics of the Cold War era.

Whilst there have been errors and instances of partiality, I believe this whole issue has been blown up out of all proportion. However my main point today is that the naysayers cannot have only one set of parameters on which to base their prejudice. If we are going down this invidious road, we have to take Mr McCombie - Smith's point on board too. We have to  embrace commercial as well as the educational and 'friends and family' connection when setting down our 'who judges whom' rules.

Consider this: Piper A is struggling with his sound. He attends the home of Judge B, a reedmaker on the Tuesday. What chance an objective analysis of tone when judge B presides over piper A on the Saturday? If Judge C makes or designs chanters should we really believe he can display the required objectivity towards the sound achieved by piper A who plays his stick? Furthermore, every manufacturer of drone reeds will know the top professional who plays their products. Are we really saying there is no commercial advantage in that manufacturer, if he also judges, having these pipers win a Gold Medal or a Clasp or a 'big' MSR?

If we go through the current list of registered judges there is a significant number who have the involvement outlined above - and quite right too. Piping benefits from their pouring their lifetime of expertise and knowledge into reeds, chanters or whatever. And I do not believe for one minute that any of them are corrupt or would choose to engineer a result to favour their customers. So in this I am at odds with our Victorian author. But you cannot have it both ways. Either we legislate for every possible opportunity for partiality or for none. My view has always been that we should leave this matter to the discretion of the individual adjudicator. If competition promoters suspect inequity then they will very quickly learn who not to invite on to their benches.


Nathan Mitchell has sent this re the new Winnipeg Collection: 'Dear friends, family and fellow pipers, Here is an update on the www.winnipegcollection.com....Since the December 1 launch of the book, the project has raised over $2700 for the Canadian Mental Health Association – Winnipeg Branch. To give you an idea of the reach this project has had, copies have been ordered through the website from Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and Hong Kong. A big thank you goes out to all of the musical contributors and their families, their names are listed on the website. Copies of the collection are available online at www.winnipegcollection.com.'

PP Newspaper Watch
This from the Inverness Courier: It might seem a case of coals to Newcastle, but American bagpipe player Ben Miller is bringing his musical passion full circle. Born in upstate New York and with Scottish ancestry from both his Canadian-born father and American mother, bagpipes were always something he was aware of. However, it was a tour of Scotland when he seven that really made him aware of our national instrument. 'It was when I came back that I decided the pipes were something that I wanted to learn,' he said. However, it was hearing the father and son performers and pipe-makers Hamish and Fin Moore that shifted his interest from the classic Highland pipes to the bellows-blown or 'cauld wind' bagpipes.'

'There was an attitude among Highland pipers that small pipes and bellows pipes were considered more of a toy than an actual instrument and they didn’t get the respect they deserved,' Miller said. If bellows blown pipes are a minority interest in the US, that seems to be even more the case north of the border. 'It’s taking longer for bellow piping to catch on in Canada. There was a small group of pipers in Nova Scotia who took up the small pipes, largely because of Hamish, but right now I can only think of one bellow pipes maker in Canada and he mainly makes mouth blown small pipes and Highland pipes,' he said. .... Miller has now lived in Edinburgh, on and off, for the past five years, but even here he still finds bellow pipers are in the minority, at least when it comes to playing alongside other musicians. 'I think it’s got a way to go,' he said. 'I think bellows pipers are intimidated about breaking out of their little piping world. The way pipers are brought up and trained musically, especially if they are Highland pipers, can make it difficult to start playing with other musicians. Getting other musicians to understand your instrument is an obstacle too. But there are definitely more players of bellows pipes in Scotland on the whole. It’s just that for some reason they don’t want to get involved, though there are a lot of bands out of Scotland that do use border pipes.' 

rspbalogoThe RSPBA have just issued the following:
The Music Board met on Saturday 11th April and approved the following grading changes for the 2015 season. These changes are subject to approval from the Board of Directors.

Northwest Junior Pipe Band (Canada) - BCPA band requesting grade Novice Juvenile - Granted Novice Juvenile
Augharonan Pipe Band - requesting down grading from 3B to 4B awaiting updated registrations Granted 4B
Kamloops Pipe Band (Canada) - BCPA band requesting Grade 4B - Granted 4B
St Mary’s Derrytrasna - Granted Grade 4B
Milngavie (pictured above top) - New band requesting Novice Juvenile - Granted Novice Juvenile
1st Scots - New Band requesting Grade 4B - Granted 4B after assessment was carried out
University of Bedfordshire Pipe Band - Grade 2 band requesting down grading to Grade 3A - Granted Grade 3A based on transfers and updated registrations
St Columcille United Gaelic (USA) - New band requesting Grade 4A - Granted 4A 
West Lothian Schools Pipe Band - New band requesting Grading - Granted Novice Juvenile

Remember the SPA Professional competition tomorrow. Results here ASAP.

2 thoughts on “PP Editor’s Blog: Judging/Bellows Piping/Band Re-Grades

  1. It was my experience that I put more pressure on myself when playing in front of one of my instructors – and that they did not feel the need to hold back when I did not meet their – very reasonable – expectations of my performance. If anything, it was a disadvantage to play before my instructors. This was mainly due to my heightened nerves, I admit.

  2. Would it not make sense to have a ‘body’ that periodically reviewed samples of teachers/judges – pupils results tables, to ascertain whether even unconsciously, judges were awarding prizes to pupils a more than average number of times. A bit like how in many professions, a sample of the membership is randomly audited to check standards and keep an eye on what is going on.

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