With announcement of new, severe lockdown regulations, the helmeted one reflects on the 2021 pipe band season prospects and we find him in serious mood……
I’m an optimist, a glass half full type, yet in less than a week into the New Year it was gone. Faster than two three-pace rolls, my hopes for the 2021 band competition season evaporated with the lengthening of what seems to have been the perpetual lockdown, or shutdown, of the pipe band world.
At best we are in suspended animation, kindling kept alive by those stalwarts blowing gently on the embers of piping and drumming from time to time. I know, I know, the importance of human life cannot be overstated, although try that one with a self employed musician or performer for whom the reality is harsher still. For many, the economic impacts have yet to be felt and that too affects health.
So the perhaps frivolous nature of folks in kilts, competing for lumps of silverware isn’t high on any agenda. Yet it is a piece of the fabric of our society that is in grave danger. As I said in a piece for this publication last year, without a vaccine we are kites dancing in a hurricane.
So it has been proved to be and thankfully vaccinations are rolling out, albeit the wrangling and pace of that roll-out will cause issues no doubt. Simply put, without a significantly vaccinated population in the U.K. there will be little or no prospect of a return to community events, crowds attending them, or what you might remember as ‘normality’.
The many months of that vaccination roll-out, may well, in my view, put paid to the 2021 outdoor competition season, never mind the hard-pressed local authority hosts of the five majors, all likely cash strapped, and where the model to recoup some of the outlay is severely curtailed. Getting a Championship sanctioned is, in itself, beyond comprehension right now. Defeatist? Nope, just realistic. Hope is not a strategy.
And you can add to that the simple practical element of bands being ready to compete when a practice regime, usually heading into very serious mode for the elite bands right now, remains absent and will be for many more weeks. I wish I could be more positive but it’s grim out there.
There are wider ramifications too as a cohort of younger players age out of the proving ground of Juvenile grades, some having missed a full year, and maybe two, of competition.
At that age, those years are crucial and some may even lay down the pipes or sticks as life moves on. Goodness knows they have been struggling with disjointed education and forced separation from friends and family. It would be no surprise if participation numbers drop significantly.
Further, the hiatus might just have caused those who wanted to join the ship to not bother or, worse still, others missing an unexpected opportunity to learn. It’s easy to say what should have been done, and I have no plan to do so here. Fast moving situations where even government can’t control matters are best left to those in the elected seats rather than fireside grumblers.
What we can do though, is have a front footed assault; to recognise the reality and make the best of it. Inaction is killing this thing those of you reading this, love. It is a silent assassin of a thousand cuts. Before you know it, hands are being wrung and the ebbing away becomes permanent.
The late Sandy Grant-Gordon was a generous philanthropist who quietly funded much. There are precious few to compare and the precarious nature of our art rests on such kindness, especially when government waxes but doesn’t really get it as a fabric of our society. Sadly, the comic cartoons of the bagpiper, an annoying noise and tourist photo opportunity, often overtake the serious nature of what we do.
If another blank season must be endured could our leadership at Association level not create an online activity list, ready to go at the point where reality dawns and competitions are cancelled? There should be planning for juvenile competitions, online forums, a digital archive of the legends created to capture their memories of the old days, aspirant pipe major instruction sessions and much more besides. There are experts around the band scene itching to help no doubt.
Daily, I see leadership teams resort to being either functionaries or adventurers – but in the harshest of conditions there should be no choice: leaders have to lead. Without new adventurous ideas, a different way of doing things, they and their organisations fade to oblivion.
Winter has indeed arrived and I take no solace in having been right with what were dire forecasts way back in May last year.
The UK and Republic of Ireland have their own challenges, and thinking of our international family I wonder where things will be in the next few months. My thoughts are with those in South Africa now seeing a virus variant. To the USA and Canadian friends, who knows where matters will rest and at what point international travel will be sensible, allowed and affordable?
Stay well as best you can, knowing all things pass. The golden generations of those who faced world wars left inspiring examples of selfless service and more than a few good tunes. They knew how to survive and come again. Over and out.