Changes at the College and the Funding of Piping

Just when things seemed to be settling down at the College of Piping we hear of another departure, that of General Manager Fraser MacInnes, writes the Editor. My information is that the parting was not as harmonious as it might have been.

There must have been personality issues here for, according to the Office of Scottish Charities Register (OSCR), the College’s profit last year was £21,000. The old place seemed to be doing alright under Mr MacInnes’s guidance, however business will now be conducted jointly by Piping Times Editor Stuart Letford and Piping Director Colin MacLellan with the firm hand of Chairman Colin MacNeill conducting traffic from Edinburgh.

Unconfirmed rumours are that the College’s magazine, the Piping Times, has seen a fall in circulation to under 600 per month. This would give it a readership of 2,400 max. but the decline is not surprising and is in line with what is happening in many other areas of print journalism. (The Scotsman newspaper only sells 19,000 copies a day from a heyday high of more than four times that only a few years ago). The only way to counteract the online onslaught is with excellence in content and quality writing. You have to make the product unique and worth buying. We can contrast the PT readership with that of Piping Press (and I’m sure other online piping magazines) where the monthly viewing figures are a minimum of TEN times the PT total. Not hubris; fact. But people like a paper read. If a magazine is good enough it will sell (Economist, Private Eye, Spectator), so there is hope for the PT.

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The other way it could hit back would be by becoming a free offering; print thousands, flood the market. That way you boost circulation and keep the advertisers happy. The downside is that there is no income from the cover price and, given the international nature of the piping and pipe band worlds, there are hefty mailing charges to consider. PT cover price income is already pretty low and when added to advertising revenue will, from my calculations, hardly be covering the current editor’s salary never mind paying for the print run.

The College’s overall wages bill must be pretty high too. My unconfirmed information is that the Director of Piping is being paid £10,000 a year for one day a week, though it has to be said that when I was there I found my responsibilities were 24/7 so it would be wrong to assess his salary on a strict time basis.

I hope the new arrangement works for the College and it is about time those great supporters of piping, the William Grant Foundation (WGF), offered them some funding. Here we have an institution (the College) dedicated to teaching piping at grass-roots level, not only at home but abroad, with an unparalelled record in offering lessons for free to disadvantaged youngsters. Yet the Foundation continues to ignore it just as its predecessors at Glenfiddich did. This was a recurring annoyance for me during my 15 years at Otago Street, why should the National Piping Centre (NPC) get all the cash? the repeated refrain.

According to OSCR the National Piping Centre showed a surplus of circa. £12,000 in 2016. Income streams included £250,000 from the Scottish Government’s agency Creative Scotland (£100,000 for the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland) and £150,000 from Glenfiddich.

Recently there was a hush-hush meeting convened to discuss the Foundation’s future funding of piping with emphasis on solo competitions. I presume the College was invited to this pow-wow, or at least sent a copy of the detailed discussion document prepared by NPC Director of Piping Roderick MacLeod.

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7 thoughts on “Changes at the College and the Funding of Piping

  1. Disclaimer: I am no one of any importance, and certainly not the most intelligent individual. I am just a simple person who loves our music! I have made purchases from both the College and the Centre since 1983. I have never belonged to one or the other. I do not claim to know of any issues. I do not know of any history (perceived or real) between the College and Centre. I do not claim to have the solution to the questions or issues raised in the article. I do see goodness in both organisations, and I only offer my poor view from the nose-bleed seats, far and awa’. My only intent was to offer my poor opinions, hope to offer some ‘food for thought’, and convey my hope for a better future for those to come to our music!
    In the military, there is a general esprit de corps for one’s own unit. It serves a purpose, cohesion, team work, builds morale, etc. However, there is a time when it becomes, and indeed should always be that the unit has to in a sense, set it’s “high esprit de corps” aside, and remember that the Army is not JUST ONE unit or regiment, etc and work together at the ONE true and common team, for the good of the ARMY and a WHOLE, and work together to ensure successful mission accomplishment. At the unit level, there are always the top performers. You have the iron-man and individual events of strength and of demonstrations of technical proficiency to credit the top individual in the Unit, and other individual oriented activities. At the end of the day, the top individual is recognised, and the Army goes rolling along. At the Battalion level, you have the best of the companies and any others who may wish to enter the challenge. However, company level TEAMS – perhaps special TEAMS even entre the Battalion level competitions, ultimately, the result is the same. An individual is recognised, and now a TEAM is recognised as “best” in the Battalion. This continues up the organization. There is a time and place for ego and pride in one’s own abilities. Indeed, as long as it is positive, that can be a positive and good thing! Yet, the professional realizes that it is not only their own ego which has gotten them where they are. If the individual is a true professional, they realise that it was the desire to excel, their own hard work – AND the acceptance of the challenge by their fellow warriors who have the same individual desires, which has encouraged and pushed them in a POSITIVE manner, to exceed. However, it must be remembered that above all, at the end of the day, the individual, the squad, the platoon, the unit, and the battalion ALL understand that it is only as strong as the weakest link. Above all, everyone understands that their passion for their country, Army, and team is what unites each and every one of them. They all therefore work together to ultimately ensure successful mission accomplishment for the WHOLE.
    I am more than ready to say that I do not understand the underlying dynamics of what has happened in the past, and why our common piping family is in the state it finds itself.
    It almost appears to be a scene of a bitter feud between spouses!
    It appears as though we have The College and The Centre as the two main organisations in our piping family, which are competing against one another for absolutely everything – to include custody of the children. It is almost as though there is a nasty divorce going on which has been going on for years. It only ends up with people on both sides being bitter and at the detriment of the “children”.
    In the current times of austerity in which the military finds itself, where there are extreme resource restrictions, almost to the detriment of the entire Army and indeed placing the Country at risk. Thus, it has become necessary to learn how to work together and look to a smarter and disciplined way to conduct business to ensure that everyone, from the squaddie to the unit, and Army has the resources and kit it needs to accomplish the mission successfully.
    It means that pride at the individual, and at each level throughout the Army has to be set aside (not hampered or inhibited, or stymied), but tempered in common sense and for the good of their fellow warrior and for the overall success of the unit and mission.
    We have to recognize that we all share the same pride – no one individual’s pride is greater than the other. We share the same desires. We therefore need to figure out how to communicate that we share those same goals, put aside any thoughts of “I know better” or, “My heart is in the right place, the oter person is looking out for self” and come together to make things better than what we received or how found them.
    I am the first to state categorically that I am certainly a “nobody” and I am no one of any importance – anywhere! However, getting the perspective of a view from the outside looking in can be of benefit at times. I am not sure that this is one of those times, so I humbly and unassumingly offer what I seem to be seeing from outside the circle.
    Looking at this situation from an “unpassionate” point of view (not taking sides one way or the other) it would seem that it would be beneficial for both the College and the Centre to come together and explore, through meaningful and sincere discussion about a way ahead where both organisations can come to a common operating picture. It would certainly benefit the overall, worldwide piping community.
    Perhaps uniting is not the answer – but it is a course of action. A possibility. Meaningful discussions would seem to require that all possible courses of action be taken into account when seeking out a truly viable option and reaching the best possible resolution to any issue.
    The two organisations have been critical to the overall worldwide success of piping at all levels. It would appear that this would be a great opportunity for both to come together to discuss options which would benefit both and indeed the world of piping. Pool resources – personnel, logistical and financial. What about transforming? After all, if there is no transformation things become irrelevant, stagnate, rot and die.
    Imagine how the individuals and the regiments felt when the amalgamation took place! Was it easy – No! The history, all the potentially (and factual) bad which took place in that action, there was some real devastation and negative repercussions – both perceived and factual. Politics and individual egos were forced to be checked at the door, indeed there was some good in the overall result. There were positives, and it ‘had to happen’ to secure the future of the Army.
    Could it be that we have reached a point in history where we should have meaningful, positive, non-adversarial conversations and discussion? Perhaps both organisations can come together and recognize that we all share one, single, great passion and for that good, seek out a positive resolution? Can these two come together for what they both claim is love for the music, and to ensure the advancement and preservation of the treasures of the piping world, to ensure its continuity and the passing along of piping to future generations?
    IS it worthwhile to explore serious discussion about a possible “amalgamation”?
    If not uniting ‘forces’ and smartly proportioning resources, perhaps there continues to be two organisations. As I am the first to admit, I am not the smartest individual. Whatever takes place, it would certainly seem to be of benefit to both organisations to work together instead of continuing to compete as they are now, and continuing a fractured existence.
    There is a certain ring to something like, “The National Piping College and Centre”! No matter what a possible united organisation may be called – there is strength in unity, in numbers, in bringing together resources and uniting for the good of the whole gentlemen.
    Of course, there has to be goodwill, respect at all levels for each other’s talents and abilities, and perhaps most of all (yet at times the hardest thing to do) the willingness to set aside an individual’s personal pride – so that the greater community benefits and thrives.
    Uniting efforts and ‘forces’ brings the benefit of building stronger organisations, preserving history, highlighting ALL of those individuals and bands who have given us the culture and history, not to mention the craft we share and seek to preserve.
    Uniting resources also helps to provide a better Games competition experience and environment by providing the ‘enhanced’ prizes and access to venues which so many of us say is necessary to attract a better competition field, and for all the other reasons which both organisations are consistently seeking patronage and sponsorships for.
    Is that not what we always tell ourselves – we are doing this for fun, the camaraderie, esprit de corps, and to promote our culture for the benefit of the generations to come?
    (…now back to hours of practice to take 1st place in the next 2/4 March! Ha!)

  2. My comments above were made as the popular belief that Glenfiddoch had funded it, now that I have been made aware that was not the case and the members funded it themselves I wish to retract the comments and regret any offence they may have had on the Band members, with my experience I should have checked the facts before commenting and truly regret my knee jerk reaction.

    1. I believe the original Spirit of Scotland band of a few years ago did receive funding from Glenfiddich Mr McKay so you need not to be too hard on yourself. RW

  3. Sad to hear the College is in strife. It has helped many people over the years and offered employment to some of todays top players and tutors in their development years.

  4. While I agree with some of the above you can’t tell a sponsor who he should support, also piping tuition is done all over the country by bands and individuals who get nothing from any of the bodies listed, our band has taught piping and drumming for free for years and the tutors only get satisfaction. I think the piping centre is now beginning to compete with its customers the youth band taking all the plum piping attractions with our players , and the worst of all the Spirit of Scotland band I am led to believe was founded by Glenfiddoch this was a disgrace all that new kit even special pipe cases and drum harnesses who paid for all that ? and where is it now ? it was a complete ego trip and the Piping Centre should never have got involved, how much better if the money had gone to a novice or grade 4 band who are struggling to buy uniform and equipment. and the piping world does not end in Glasgow I have never seen them make any appearance or attend any concerts in the North east yet we travel every year for Piping live . I think both institutions do good work but need to spread there wings and mix in the real piping world where there is no Glenfiddoch, only in a bottle.

    1. Fred, As a member of the Spirit last year I can confirm everyone bought their own uniform- kilt, waistcoat, shirt etc. Everything but ties and socks were bought by us. The pipe cases were given as a generous promotional exercise from the maker in HK. As a piper I can’t comment on the drumming accessories but you should ensure you have the facts before mud slinging!

      The state of the PT is rather sorry. Last issue had over a quarter of the readable content dedicated to an unknown American’s trip to Scotland. This would have been better placed in an in flight BA magazine. Why they devote so many results to pipe band grades is a mystery also – perhaps they believe every band member will buy a copy but this evidently isn’t happening. I have sent solo games results to the College but they never end up in the magazine.

      The content is the problem. I just hope they can get back to the focus which made it so popular – competitive solo piping.

  5. I believe it’s a shame that the oldest piping school in the world is so in trouble. Anyway when there’s no support from the official authorities and all is left to private’s hands this meaning that CoP must fight against windmills of public-feeded entities.
    I think CoP needs a strong and acknowledged leadership like Robert Wallace’s has been for a long time. And in my modest opinion PT should be a high-quality printed magazine with plenty of good pictures and qualified contents to regain the facies of past times. More it should find a strong sponsor to be properly feeded.

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