By Robert Wallace
The dust may have settled following the shock Grade 2 result at the British Pipe Band Championship but the problem has not gone away. You will remember the summary sheets last month showed wide discrepancies in the opinions of the piping adjudicators. Some were as much as ten placings and more apart.
We can dismiss the anonymous verbiage on social media decrying the RSPBA ship and all those who sail in her. No one with any interest in the important issues at stake should concern themselves with anything other than constructive comment from people who are prepared to put their name to what they write, as I am doing here.
The matter has exercised the best minds in the Association since Paisley. Forget any suggestion that what happened will be quickly forgotten as ‘just one of those things’. It has been an embarrassing episode for the RSPBA and, as I said in my earlier piece, it points to a flaw in the modus operandi of pipe band judging.
Two piping judges at opposite sides of a band will always hear different things. My solution of having them sitting together in front of a semi circle would go a long way to ameliorating these differences but I accept that given our inherent resistance to change that might never happen. We are stuck with the military circle from the 1930s and are probably looking at kilted backsides, drones before chanters, for another 50 years.
So if that’s a non-starter then what about more consultation? The problem with this is time. There simply is not enough of a gap between band performances for adjudicators to complete sheets, compile placings and compare notes.
And extending the gap will ruin the day for the audience. Just look at the boredom that descends on solo contests when tuning times run riot.
So if consultation is not a viable solution then for the time being why not publish the piping score as a unified figure? Combine the result from each piping judge then add it to that of the ensemble and drumming judge.
The Adjudicator’s Panel would of course be privy to any wild discrepancies and could respond as they see fit, but the public and the bands would not, and though my instict is for as much transparency as possible what else can be done in the circumstances?
All four judges bear a responsibility for the outcome of any major championship and piping judges should be acting as a team within a team. Some are recording a result as they hear it. They’d rather not change their scores irrespective of what their fellow judge has. Nothing wrong with that you might think but is this intransigence causing the problem? The thinking has to change. These judges have to accept that what they are hearing may be only part of the story.
The present system of complete transparency is also unfair on adjudicators themselves. The poor chap less well known than, say, five times Worlds winner Robert Mathieson on the other side of the circle, will get it in the neck if there is an aching chasm between piping placings.
The less well known gentleman is probably just as capable and knowledgeable a judge as his multi-titled counterpart, but the message to the pipe band public when disaster strikes is that he’s the weak link in the operation. He doesn’t deserve the resultant opprobrium, the perceived diminution in his status, but that’s the outcome as some see it.
Knowing many members of the Adjudicators Panel as I do I can tell you that you will not find a more dedicated group of professionals anywhere. They toil away weekend after weekend during the season for scant reward.
They soul search after a rogue result; there are phone calls and discussions – real angst, real concern. They want at all times to do their best by the bands and do their damnedest to get the correct result. They’ve all been there and they know what it means if they get it wrong.
Pipe band adjudicators would not be human if they did not make mistakes from time to time, but it is galling for them and us when the fault lies not with these well-meaning individuals but with a flawed adjudication process.