More Musings on Pipe Band Adjudication

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.

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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.

RSPBA judges….doing their best 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.

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3 thoughts on “More Musings on Pipe Band Adjudication

  1. Rab, I agree 100% with your concert formation for a pipe band competition. At the very least if the bands continue to form in an inward facing circle the 2 piping judges should make at least one complete arc from anchor to anchor player.I would like to offer an example of how such a huge discrepancy can occur. Every word of this event is true. No band name, grade, contest or year will be given other than it was a Major Championship. I was playing in the left corner.Darn near perfect entry and “E”. Excellent march (where I stood) but the most bizarre, out of tune drone sound drifted in for 5-8 seconds. Hmmm I thought … Did I just hear that or am I imagining it? Beautiful to the S/S. Unison and pulse spot on. It crosses my mind at mid-tune point- “We could win the grade higher if we keep it together . This is sweet.” Damn now. There is the horrible drone sound again. Drum corps enhancing the melodies wonderfully. Crackin’ into the reel and lovely music and tempo. Again, wicked drone sound 5-8 seconds. I thought I might stop and scream-“Where is that?” Great finish. At the huddle everyone seemed to be beaming and I am on cloud nine as I bounced around the park secretly thinking- We might have won this. Until i got back to the bus and a very competent player walks out to meet me and whispers- My bass drone was waaaayyyyyy out of tune for the whole performance. Now whether it was missed being done OR purposely moved out of tune( 3-4 cm. too high) I still don’t know to this day. He showed me and I knew where it should have been because I had done the drones my self countless times. I told him to come round the other side of the bus and strike up. Awwww thought I would weep. I said – I don’t even want to go on for the march past. Both piping judges were bonafide, very experienced men but both only went as far as the middle of the top of the circle. End of the sad story:: Judge A on my side- 1st. Judge B on the other side- 18th. So it can honestly happen.

  2. Robert, an interesting read however much more can be done than hide the judges mark to protect his/her integrity! Let’s level out the reliance on subjective opinion by defining pitch of pipes, Let’s define what is acceptable by way of snare/bagpipe ratio to achieve a defined balance of sound between corps. Let’s look at a set number of pipers and drummers so bands can be judged equally . There are so many things that can be done better, including some of the things you mention. Will it change probably not, because within the association there is a prevalence of self preservation together with an archaic branch system where we jimmies mammy becomes band committee member, band rep at branch meetings, committee member of branch, committee member of association etc but wee jimmies mammy Jen’s hehaw about piping and drumming and possesses very little business acumen!

  3. Fantastic idea,
    I personally do not think that judges have a hard job judging it’s just people have a hard job accepting judges opinion.
    People scream from the tops of their voices and complain, half of which are not qualified and the other half probably haven’t listened to the other bands competing.
    I play and after hearing 2 recordings of my band from the British Championships, taken from different sides, i can clearly hear why/how judges scores differ.
    We need to remember that if it wasn’t for these guys doing what they do then we wouldn’t be able to compete.
    It’s about time that we respected and accepted the judges decision regardless

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