By Our Special Correspondent
As Field Marshal players erupted, ran around, jigged, jumped hugged and entertained all of us with their antics in the seconds after Ian Embelton had pronounced them World Champions, one of their number, Piper Matt Wilson, naturally, joined in. His P/M Richard Parkes had just equalled the record with 12 Worlds wins after all. But very few will have realised that Matt himself had his own record to celebrate. He had just won two World Championships on the same day for the second time – completing two Dollar/FMM doubles. A feat in itself. His Dollar Academy Juvenile band had lifted their 2018 title just half an hour before FM.
A considerable achievement, but in a quiet way P/M Wilson would have pointed up the efforts of the entire Dollar team who made it happen: Lee Innes, Louise Auguitis, leader Craig Stewart, other staff, parents and the players in his charge. Such a rewarding season with four out of five Majors in the bag and Champion of Champions in Drumming and Band. Roll the credits – but at the same time open the doors for those leaving school and the pipe band programme; then roll up the sleeves and start re-building for 2019. That’s the way it is in the Juvenile grades.
But for Dollar there is more. Coming into sharp focus as the Champion of Champion tables were filled out on Worlds weekend, it emerged that only one band had, in the entire season, across all Grades, amassed 30 points – the magic number for a Grand Slam. Winning all Majors in a season, step forward Dollar Academy Novice Juvenile A band (pictured top), and piping tutor Callum Beaumont, drumming tutors Steven McWhirter and Louise Auguitis. There were some wonderful clips on social media of the combined bands playing in the town of Dollar in the darkness that night of the Worlds and marching to the school. Huge satisfaction and World Championship medals for sure, but the reward for those tutors is short-lived – they will lose some of the best of their players up to the Juvenile band as it sees a chunk of its number age out with, I understand, up to a third of all players transitioning in the close season.
Put yourself in the position of a Juvenile Pipe Major and Lead Drummer losing that number of your brightest and best every year. And more than that, a group of individuals who have played together and to your system for maybe six years. Sure, you get a pick of a great crop of youngsters to replace them, but they haven’t played in the pressure cooker of the Juvenile grade where the standard would rock most of Grade 2, if not push the very best to the wire and over. It is a bit easier for Matt than it is for Callum. Callum gets the rookies and really is starting from scratch. Matt has the young stars from the World Championship Novice band to work with.
Juvenile is such a great training ground that pipers and drummers from these ranks now appear as the young guns across many of the best G1 bands. In that wider world, some under 18 players are not even bothering with Juvenile and simply going to the big leagues of G1 and G2. Other could be ‘Juvenile’ bands have chosen to go into other grades such as 4a and 4b, so the writing might well be on the wall for the grade announced after 4B and before 3B. They have no competing Juvenile bands in Northern Ireland do they.
Here is the odd thing, the very best in Juvenile solo piping get pushed up to the Adult contests once they are winning too much. For instance, if you win ‘the MacGregor’ at Oban (the under 21 competition) you are in the Silver Medal the following year and coincidentally, the last two winners, both Dollar pupils, were just over 16. Age doesn’t come into it. But I digress…..
So having graduated a number of Novice A players up the Juvenile, how does that Grand Slam Novice A band replenish? Firstly, there is a little seen Novice B band and it will promote those who have put in the hard work, practiced properly, and have the hard-wired skills and attitude to join the next team up. Dollar has a veritable conveyor belt of talent. A few new, gifted players might well arrive at the school too as parents seek co-curricular activities to match their offspring’s precocious talents.
Another problem is that the Novice A band will automatically be promoted to Juvenile by the RSPBA and, like the last few years, have to appeal not to be, as the school already has a band in that rarefied atmosphere and personnel changes will make the Nov A band in 2019 different one entirely from the 2018 grand slammers.
Oban High School on Parade
But let’s hear it for all those tutors in all the bands who do such great work in the Juvenile grades. They don’t all have the facilities, back up or depth of training available at Dollar. As an observation, Oban High School should be a definite upgrade. Here was a band finishing second and sounding great all season. A master teacher in Mr MacColl senior, showing that the tutor is key. As for the quiet, unassuming maestro Beaumont of the smiling eyes and World Championships with Shotts, SFU and Inveraray plus his third Clasp last week? We suspect the Grand Slam and World title with his Dollar Academy Novice Band this past year may just have surpassed all of the above.