The Solo Piping Judges Association and How They Do Business

By Robert Wallace
By Robert Wallace
Anyone who thinks my opposition to the recent judges/pupils decision by the Solo Piping Judges Association was solely based on concerns over adjudication would be wrong. What is also at stake here is teaching; one generation passing on to the next its knowledge and experience.

Anything which impedes this process, as I believe this retrograde decision does, has to be bad for our music. Senior figures in the piping world who wish to judge will be less inclined to teach. And I now know of at least nine, yes nine, who are opposed to this new rule with varying degrees of vehemence, the majority due to their concerns over its negative educational impact.

All good rules and laws are formed when intelligent individuals collectivise their thoughts and ideas, filter them by analysis and discussion, and after suitable deliberation on the pros and cons, announce a proposal to the field for a decision. That field will have been furnished with all available data (transparency is everything) the better to inform their view and ultimately their ‘yay’ or ‘nay’. After all of this, even post-consensus, amendments and fine tuning will be allowed for. 

Consider then, the position of the Solo Piping Judges Association. Here they were with a controversial proposal driven hard by individuals with their own burning agenda. The committee of six is won over and agrees that the matter be put to the membership at the Association AGM for a decision on its adoption. In the interregnum three senior members, who cannot attend, respond to the prospectus as of right. In their letters important points are raised, points of law, possibilities of impact and outcome, all lucidly set out with considerable erudition and thought. These were reasonable ideas from professional men with knowledge not only of piping, but of how matters such as these should be conducted – and the frustration and division that results from ill-conceived dictat. In short, they argued, we needed to get it right.

Did the committee circulate these letters to the membership prior to the meeting the better that they, the judges, understood the points advanced and some of the alternatives available to them when it came to the vote? No; the letters, from  two retired lawyers and myself, were deliberately stymied, a scant reading at the AGM the only acknowledgement. How on earth were the membership, all 17 who attended the AGM out of 52 I am told, going to be in a position to properly evaluate their contents? Worse, and more reprehensible, was the decision not to circulate the letters at all. Was the committee concerned that the ideas they outlined could swing things against them, that sufficient of the judges’ consciences would be pricked to prevent this ruling from going forward? And there’s more unseemly stuff I could tell you about too, but let’s not make matters worse than they already are. 

What does all of this say about this association? Does it not speak ill of its ability to properly superintend our judges and their rule book? Is it, indeed, fit for purpose? I will leave readers to make up their own minds but I would ask all my fellow adjudicators to think hard about what has gone on here. Think hard and consider the future. 

I remind readers that this article is my responsibility alone and has not been written in collusion with anyone else. RW


7 thoughts on “The Solo Piping Judges Association and How They Do Business”

  1. As vehemently as you continue to oppose this, I am still not convinced. Setting a higher standard of professionalism by eliminating the appearance of potential conflicts of interest is better for the competition environment.

    1. Dear ‘Voidboy’, Unless you are prepared to identify yourself this will be the last time any comment you make will be carried. The Editor.

  2. Something else that needs considered is the small pool of suitably qualified individuals to choose from.
    Add to this that many are elderly and the situation looks worse.
    It is being assumed that our current cream of the crop will move to the judges bench.
    REALLY??
    Most of them teach many pupils. Some of them also have commercial interests in the piping world.
    Will they want to abandon those activities to be judges?

    In the longer term I don’t see how it will work and be of benefit to piping as a whole. That letters were concealed, thereby undermining the decision process,
    says a lot about those who were determined to push this through.

  3. Clearly the avoid man thinks that hiding behind a pseudonym can be more effective than a piper playing behind a screen?

  4. The answer is simple. Let the competitors emeritus be the great teachers, and appoint judges from the amateurs as in days of old.

  5. This is obvious.
    Modern days judges are under more scrutiny than ever before.
    Purely for the enjoyment of listeners and not judging, particularly at The Northern Meeting in Inverness, the promoters allow or engage The British Broadcasting Corporation abbreviated to the BBC to attend and record competition performances, particularly The Gold Medal, The Clasp and former winners March Strathspey and Reel. This is not to catch out judges, but to allow people who cannot attend Inverness to hear at least some of the playing. The recordings are broadcast usually the following week and are available for several weeks after the initial broadcast on the thing called the worldwide web. As said this would be intended as sharing a bit of enjoyment to people who cannot attend and not for judging purposes. However, there is a spin off in this and it is simply that ardent listeners may make their own personal judgement and assessment of the prize winning performances and indeed of the judging that takes place. Now it would be patronising to the judges to suggest that the judgements are always applauded and agreed upon by listeners, both attending the competitions and listeners to the recordings. We are entitled to our opinions. The point is that judges are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Insofar as other competitions, individuals pop recorders into their sporrans etc and can listen again and again to their own playing and the playing of others. They may detect errors seemingly undetected by judges who pretty much on the hoof have to come to a decision. However in all probabilty those errors may or will have been discussed In benches of two or three, and the discussions will include if a pupil is involved. Eliminate the judge/teacher/pupil perceived conflict of interest and indeed every other conceived conflict of interest and there will still be bitching from pipers re the results, based on alleged cronyisms and antipathies, which is actually more poisonous than discussing the merits of performances.
    I have only been involved in adult competitive piping for a relatively short time, commencing in 1964 and have heard lots of banter re results with all kinds of associations quoted, but generally good relationships have been maintained.
    The present pursuit will cause a pernicious poison in the solo piping community.
    There is hopefully something bigger in this than individuals, and groups of people such as the SPJA, yes and even competitions and that is the welfare of the music. I would fervently hope that the likes of The Northern Meeting will continue to exist when the SPJA, passes into history.

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