What Ensemble Adjudicators Should Assess at Competitions

The following article by Alistair Aitken OBE was  first published in the April 2003 edition of Pipe Band Magazine, an edition now out of print. It throws some light on the still mysterious (to some) business of Ensemble adjudication. Given the rapid approach of the 2017 pipe band season we thought it would be helpful to bands currently polishing up their competition MSRs and Medleys.

By Alistair Aitken OBE

In the last edition of the magazine we introduced the subject of Ensemble adjudication. We concluded by referring to the RSPBA Structured Learning Book 3 which describes Pipe Band Ensemble under four main headings – Introduction, Intonation, Integration and Interpretation. This edition attempts to explain the main aspects of Pipe Band performance which Adjudicators are expected to take into account in each of these four categories when adjudicating Ensemble.

While the whole concept of Pipe Band Ensemble is open to different interpretation, it should be clear that the RSPBA training programme for Ensemble Adjudicators emphasises that the role is significantly different from that of adjudication in the Piping and Drumming disciplines. The Ensemble Adjudicator is expected to focus on assessing the overall musical presentation of the Pipe Band performance and be less concerned with specific technical aspects associated with either Piping or Drumming, although these of course should still be regarded as important and not ignored completely.

Consequently those individuals who successfully complete Ensemble training, which involves two full weekend courses and practical experience as shadow Ensemble Adjudicators at actual competitions, should be assessing and valuing aspects such as the following when adjudicating Pipe Band performances in an Ensemble context:

Introduction: The assessment should concentrate on the quality of the Introduction as a Pipe Band collectively  i.e. the precision and accuracy of the collective impact of all the instruments – Bagpipes, Bass Drum, Tenor Drums and Snare Drums).



Intonation: In the context of intonation, the focus should be on the quality of the overall Band sound, covering the carrying power of the Band sound and the tonal balance between all the instruments in terms of pitch. The weight balance of the sound in general should also be an important consideration, but it needs to be recognised that the weight balance of the Drum Corps can be varied at times during the performance for musical effect.

Personal preferences can obviously be a factor in this area between Adjudicators as views inevitably will differ depending on the richness, fullness, resonance, brightness, harshness and clarity etc of the Band sound overall.

Integration: Under this category the Adjudicator has to assess the precision and co-ordination of the technical execution between Pipes and Drums throughout the complete performance. The emphasis should be on the integration of the Band as a complete entity (i.e. clarity, phrasing, unison and breaks) rather than on specific technical aspects of Piping and Drumming, although obvious failings in technical aspects should not be ignored.

What it means to win…P/M Mathieson and Shotts seconds after their 2003 Worlds win was announced. Robert’s band was renowned for its ensemble work

Interpretation: This category offers most scope for comment by the Ensemble Adjudicator. The Adjudicator should be assessing the arrangement of the melodies, the overall expression and the style in which the tunes are being played in relation to their time signature, musical theme etc. The focus should be on assessing aspects which relate to three constituents of music Rhythm, Melody and Harmony – and should take account of areas such as phrasing, rhythmic clarity, fluency, dynamic effect and the overall impact of the performance on the Adjudicator from a musical perspective.

It is probably fair to say that in practice few Critique Sheets from Ensemble Adjudicators cover the above territory fully and there is a tendency for Adjudicators to focus overall Band integration and tonal issues with little or less reference to musical effect and musical balance. This suggests that there could now be value in the RSPBA seeking to review and possibly re-define Pipe Band Ensemble, taking into account the experience gained over the past 37 years.

There have been many innovative developments in Pipe Bands in recent years which have a bearing on Pipe Band Ensemble. There is also a debate about the extent to which the boundaries of the traditional Pipe Band can or should be further broadened. There may be scope for exploring some of these issues in future editions of the magazine.

The major championship of the pipe band season is the  British Championships on 20th May at St James Playing Fields, Paisley. See the Grade 1 draw here. The current issue of Pipe Band Magazine has more details and additional information on all minor contest too.


Maclean Highland Gathering NSW – Updated with Report and Pictures

Report from the 113th Maclean Highland Gathering held 14th April 2017 in northern New South Wales, Australia. The picture above shows winner Andrew Roach in typical Antipodean formal dress.

Robert Gibb writes: For the 113th time in its long history, the annual Maclean Highland Gathering was held on Easter weekend over the 14th and 15th of April.  The Friday focusses on solo piping with all grades represented. ‘A’ grade competitors compete in the Maclean Gold Medal contest comprising Piobaireachd, MSR, Hornpipe and Jig, and Air sections.

Those placed gain good prizemoney, and in addition the presentation each year of the solid gold James MacSwan Medal to the overall winner (with silver and bronze to those 2nd and 3rd) which certainly adds to the prestige of the event.

L-R: Games Chief Peter Smith with prizewinners Robert Gibb, Andrew Roach, and Jason Craig

With the A grade piping being held in the evening, a great atmosphere develops around the various contests. Fellow competitors, enthusiasts and local residents alike monitor the results  as they come in, eagerly taking stock of who is the current front-runner for the medal.

The Saturday features many of the familiar games events including the heavies, Highland dancing, and pipe bands from Juvenile to Grade 2. The official opening of the games on the Saturday comprises a public presentation of the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals for piping and the ‘Legends’ award. For 2017 the latter was presented jointly to Sam Young and his wife Liz, both internationally recognised piping and Highland dancing personalities respectively.

Following Saturday’s events Alasdair Henderson, official guest piper of the games, gave a well received recital to a packed audience at the Maclean Services Club. There is a great spirit around the games, which are well run, and well supported by locals and those from further afield.

Andrew Roach plays the lament at the opening of the games with prizewinners, organisers, and ‘legends’ Liz and Sam looking on

Piping is one of the pillars of the whole weekend, and pipes played both officially and unofficially are warmly appreciated by all – even a late night discussion in the main street on a number of piobaireachd featuring illustrations on the pipes did not raise an eyebrow!

Overall A Grade:
1st and MacSwan Gold Medal – Andrew Roach
2nd and MacSwan Silver Medal – Jason Craig
3rd and MacSwan Bronze Medal – Robert Gibb



A Grade piobaireachd:
1st – Robert Gibb, The Vaunting
2nd – David Marriner, Lament for Mary MacLeod
3rd – Mark McKenzie, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay
Judges: Tam McGirr and Sam Young

A Grade MSR:
1st – Andrew Roach
2nd – Jason Craig
3rd – Robert Gibb
Judges: Alasdair Henderson and Hazel Osborne

A Grade hornpipe/jig
1st – Andrew Roach
2nd – Jason Craig
3rd – Mark McKenzie
4th Amos Fox
Judges: Alasdair Henderson and Gordon Ferguson

A Grade slow air
1st – Jason Craig
2nd – Andrew Roach
3rd – Mark McKenzie
Judges: Garry Barker and Gordon Ferguson

MacSwan Memorial slow air
1st – Jason Craig
2nd – David Greenhalgh
3rd – Mark McKenzie
Judge: Gordon Ferguson