The New Silver Medal Qualification System – 20/20 Vision or a Severe Case of Myopia?

By Alan Clark

The Competing Pipers’ Association, in co-operation with the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting, have agreed a new qualification process for the Silver Medal. In summary those getting a place in 2020 would be:

1) Silver Medal placed competitors from the previous year
2) All A- (minus) players
3) Winners of B graded piobaireachd contests in the current year
4) B grade league table placings

Whilst additional clarity and transparency on the process is welcome, what has been agreed is far from what I would describe as fair. There are a number of shortfalls with the chosen approach.

From my calculations, assuming unique winners at each event, and considering a reference of ten A- players from 2018, this would lead to 31 qualifiers for the SM at the AG/NM prior to even considering additional league places. Inverness currently only allows 25 to play; Oban 28.

While I would concede there will likely be some duplication, what happens if there is not? Who doesn’t make the list?

Craig Sked, South Africa, winner of the Oban Silver in 2010, Callum Beaumont winner of the SM there in 2006, and Stuart Easton, NZ, winner at Inverness in 2017

It effectively makes the SM a ‘closed shop’ (certainly from a UK perspective); individuals will have to be in the CPA to compete at the AG/NM (unless they are playing at a comparative A grade level).

A piper’s track record would now appear to be of limited value and only useful for acceptance to light music competitions or, if successful enough, to merit an A- piobaireachd grading.

The approach has essentially oversimplified the eligibility process to the detriment of the players.

The qualifying B grade events will be at Kansas Winterstorm, Duncan Johnstone, BC Indoor, Highlands & Islands, Blair Atholl, Rosneath, Inveraray, Perth, MacGregor Memorial (AG), Cowal, Blairgowrie, Captain John MacLellan Memorial and the London Championship.

There are many variables present at each of these competitions and anyone can achieve a one-off result.

James Hardie, winner of the first Silver Medal at Inverness in 1978

This new set up will also be extremely damaging to smaller games and the wider games circuit, already struggling at the moment. As soon as someone has a qualification, they can simply stay at home and focus on their SM tunes.

Alternatively, one might have to say ‘I can’t go to support my local games at Stonehaven as I’ll need to go and buy the raffle ticket at Rosneath’.

At the prescribed contests pipers will be able to play tunes that have been in their repertoire for years, giving them a much greater chance of success.

I am no different, but this does not provide a measure of how well an individual will cope with learning and mastering the set tunes. (This is why there is merit in requiring set tunes to be played at graded competitions.)

Other regions of the world have considerably less opportunity to flourish with this format. There is a geographical bias which all but mandates attending the games circuit in the UK.

While a number of individuals do this already, generally they have limited time in the country and given expense, may not be able to attend every year.

This puts them at an immediate disadvantage. There is also considerable cost for local pipers to attend these events and this should not be overlooked either.

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I take issue with the comment from the press release that ‘…this will deliver the best/most consistent players’.

How does achieving potentially one result the previous year demonstrate consistency? I would extend these thoughts to the SM prize winners as well; should achieving fifth prize in the SM trump obtaining a number of piobaireachd prizes around the games?

There has been mention of other global competitions on Fb but what about success at prestigious UK competitions such as Skye and Braemar?

Perhaps this would lead to an A/A- grade for the winner but it is difficult to predict such things. And what of the rest of the prize list?

The approach does not foster inclusiveness and does nothing to help with the burgeoning number problem within the grade; there will be just as many disappointed people as there are now.

And this list of ‘qualification’ events will lead to even greater numbers entering these events than there are now.

This means to playing to all hours, heats and finals and such like, which, in essence, turns the competition into a circus.

Will promoters be able to cope with this? Some are already enforcing a numbers cap.

While I appreciate the task is not easy, I think more can be done to make the prospect of these competitions more accessible and inclusive for all that are performing at the required level.

As it stands, with this approach, there will be just as many losers as there are at present.

• Do you agree with Alan on this controversial subject? Please submit comments below.

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3 thoughts on “The New Silver Medal Qualification System – 20/20 Vision or a Severe Case of Myopia?

  1. As an American who successfully went through the Silver Medal “gamut” many years ago, I most heartily agree with the author’s “fairness” concerns. I suspect those who are actively seeking a spot in the SM contests know they best keep their mouths shut and their fingers OFF their keyboards. Since I have long since retired from competitive piping, I would like to offer my subjective perspective and comments on this complicated subject:.

    Most of the very good, Silver Medal worthy pipers I have known in the US quite frankly do NOT have the financial resources and/or the vacation time to play the circuit in Scotland or journey to Kansas City in the dead of winter and still have enough money to travel to Oban or Inverness.

    Let’s face it, regardless of residence, I would hope those who have “been there, done that” will agree the huge time commitment and laser focus required for playing at the highest levels is itself quite a challenge. Time, distance and money compounds the “dream.”

    Rather than criticize the efforts of those handed a thankless task, I applaud their initial efforts at greater transparency. I simply would suggest they take a closer look at the UNDENIABLE “international” flavor of the Silver Medal winners over the years and adjust the number of international possibilities accordingly.

  2. Some valid points here Alan. I’m trying to simplify as much of the available information before wading in with an opinion. I’ve had a haiatus of 3 years now from competing. In that time, has anything changed regarding the selection/eligibility process for the gold medal (apart from numbers)? If not could someone who has first hand experience at this level summarise it?

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