Pipe Band Adjudication: Weather Issues and the Need for Better Positioning of Judges

Many years ago I was judging Grade 4 at Cowal Games in the days when that grade could have over 40 competitors.  It was one of the wettest days I ever encountered at Dunoon – and there were many. 

The rain was coming down in sheets and I was standing on the grass in about three inches of water.  The second band to play was Ashbourne from Derbyshire in England.  As they arrived at the starting line the Pipe Major stated to me in quite strong terms that it was ridiculous to have to play in such conditions.  My response was that I agreed but that he was luckier than the adjudicators as we still had another 38 performances to listen to after his band!

Some years later I had a similar situation at Bridge of Allan Highland Games, when Ian McLellan and I were judging over 40 bands in Grade 4.  The rain pelted down the whole day and we just had to grin and bear it and keep going as there was no way the competition was being cancelled. 

The weather that day was so bad that, being the week before the World Championships, Strathclyde Police decided not to play in the Grade 1 contest to avoid damaging their instruments for the following week.  Again the adjudicators had no such choice!

The Scottish Championships at Dumbarton is another venue which is frequently hit by bad weather.  In 2011 when judging there in the lower grades it was so wet and cold that one of the RSPBA Directors had to bring coffees to warm up the four adjudicators in our team as it was proving increasingly difficult to even hold a pen or pencil to write our the critique sheets.

Writing a comments in the rain is always difficult as a ballpoint pen often does not show on the type of paper used for RSPBA critique sheets, so it is usually safer to use a pencil. 

A typical day at Bridge of Allan

These days most adjudicators carry with them what is called a ‘Weatherwriter’. It’s is not completely ideal but does allow the judge to write under a plastic protector.  The downside is that it is angled, can steam up and would benefit from some form of windscreen wiper! 

Early in my adjudication career I was at the Rothesay contest when the then RSPBA Executive Officer, Bob Nichol, asked me to try the ‘Weatherwriter’ out, although at that time we did not know what it was called. 

The Weatherwriter…a Godsend for judges during the Scottish summer

It had been acquired by one of the RSPBA National Councillors when he had been visiting, of all places, a coal merchant.  We decided that it was a useful aid for adjudicating in the wet but we had difficulty in identifying where it could be obtained. 

At that time in my civil service career I worked in the Police Division of the Scottish Office and by chance I discovered that the protector was used by the underwater team of Central Scotland Police and from them I was able to obtain the supplier’s contact details.  It has since been adopted by many RSPBA adjudicators.

Adjudicator Positioning

I have written a number of articles over the years about adjudicator positioning. I feel quite strongly that arguments about differences in adjudicator results cannot in reality be substantiated to any degree of accuracy because adjudicators traditionally stand in different places where they hear different things. 

I have also argued on numerous occasions for a trial at Major Championships with all four adjudicators seated on a raised platform at the head of the band competing circle where they could all hear the sound projection in the same way.  As sound travels upwards quicker than at ground level, they would also have a better impression of the combined pipe band integration and sound. 

Given the size of the top pipe bands these days it seems to me unrealistic to expect the two piping adjudicators to have the same or similar results when they are standing on opposite sides of the band.  I think it is also unrealistic to expect the drumming and ensemble adjudicators, both of whom have to make an assessment of the interpretation and musical effect of the drum corps, to reach similar conclusions. 

Three judges judging……positioning always varies

In my view, if the drumming adjudicator stands behind the drum corps for the whole performance, that encourages him or her to think more in terms of a technical assessment rather than a musical one.  At the back of the corps the drumming adjudicator is hearing the piping projecting through the drums with the drums prominently more dominant. 

On the other hand the ensemble adjudicator, if standing at the head of the band circle as most do, is hearing the drumming projecting through the pipes, providing a much more effective musical balance.  Adjudicator positioning in my view can be a major barrier to effective adjudication but there appear to be many people who do not agree with me or are fearful that a trial might reveal that there would still be wide differences in results with the raised platform idea. 

The raised platform would also work with a concert-style pipe band competition formation about which there are also widely differing views.

  • To be continued. Read part 1 in this series here.

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