Readers React to Robert Mathieson’s Groundbreaking Thoughts on the Future of the Pipe Band Medley

Last week Piping Press ran a series of articles from RSPBA Adjudicator Robert Mathieson. The reaction is almost as important and interesting as the original thoughts. We print a selection here…

Robert McCarthy: Mr Mathieson is saying out loud what has been on many peoples’ minds for years. The contest format has been mired in antiquated rules long enough; they are strangling bands.

The ‘prescribed tune list’ and restricting them to 2/4 marches is smothering creativity or individuality at the entry levels. Yes it makes it easier to judge 15 – 25 bands when most play one or more of the same tunes but it’s not supposed to be about convenience for the judge.

The high end should be encouraged to experiment musically, maybe even adopt concert formation instead of the sacred circle. I’m not a fan of the starts and stops by pipe corps, I find it very hokey and probably circumvents the minimum playing time rule for the contest.

Band rosters need to be capped. The ever increasing number of players being vacuumed up by the upper grades are robbing lower grades of talent that they need to survive. Increase the number of drumming and ensemble judges used in contests for the same reason: two piping judges are present.

Stop letting bands play possum and continue in the same grade if they have proven to be consistent winners. How many times have we all heard about band XXX being allowed to stay down because they’ve changed a couple players or that moving them up will kill them? What does that say or do to the other bands in the grade?


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Ken Eller reveals that many of the innovations that Robert Mathieson suggested have already been tried: Rab has opened a thought provoking discussion, and certainly one that is overdue. History is great teacher. Long before the 78th won the World’s in 1987, the Clan MacFarlane in Canada were starting their medley with a solo piper (Scott MacAulay, ex Muirhead’s) and the full pipe section, in an open crescent behind him; facing the crowd and adjudicators with the drum section behind the pipers; solo, then band.

The intro note for pipe section was B, the first note in Neil Dickie ‘s ‘The Haunting’ (a slow air) with the snares providing crescendo rolls: Chicago Highland Games in Grant Park.

Clan MacFarlane in 1984. Soloist Scott MacAulay is standing far right

So evolution of thought started back in the 70s with the advent of the medley and progressed – long before the ‘novel ideas’ appear in 2022 (note 40 years later). History seems to be very dependent on ones’ longevity in the game!

Progress, perhaps, is slow to develop due to the rigidity of the system we play under. I admit that we never performed this medley in Scotland due to the RSPBA rule for two, three pace rolls. Heeding progressive thinking like Rab’s in the immediate future could very well take us into the next musical era. Kudos for Rab’s thoughts…… I remain patient that we will see the day…


Iain White: Will PM Mathieson’s articles be converted into something of value viz. reflective thought, discussion and action by the powers that be – whoever they are? Or will we go further down into the vortex of over complicated, over harmonised performances that neither take the art form forward nor provide true enjoyment through appreciation of the beautiful melodies? Time alone will tell, but I fear the worst.


Charlie Murray: Another great article. Not to be critical of the work done by judges, I am of the view that if you have never been involved in the setting up of a Grade 1 band…you should not be judging in that arena.


Grahame Young: A well-written piece by Robert Mathieson. G1 bands have pushed the boundaries as far as they can within the current rule structure. After 50 odd years perhaps we should try something a bit different in the Medley, perhaps at the Worlds.


Al McMullin: I’ve been ‘at it’ for 60 years. This series of articles is at the top of my list of thought provoking but necessary subjects I have read about our idiom. Now for the hard part which I suspect will be met with silence.


Gerry Quigg: Couldn’t agree more, especially the overloaded harmonies.
Ronnie: Bailie: Should be compulsory reading for P/Ms, L/Ds (and especially ‘mid sections’).
Michael Mulcahy: We are not used to hearing such erudite critique.
Glen Thompson: Ozzie Reid’s Lockheed Pipe Band had the tenors playing maracas.

4 thoughts on “Readers React to Robert Mathieson’s Groundbreaking Thoughts on the Future of the Pipe Band Medley

  1. One thing I would encourage frustrated pipe majors to do is to actually read the contest rules, because many of the “rules” we follow are merely convention. No rule requires a three pace roll be played. No rule forbids the introduction of a roto-tom or small organ to the field of play. Competitors are not required to form a circle or to play an introductory E.

    The problem is exactly the same as that seen in solo piping: the competitors are choosing to compete on increasingly narrow grounds and the judges are going along with it.

    1. Yes I agree everyone should read the rules – you obviously didn’t:-

      Band Formation
      4.37. In forming the competition circle, the Pipe Major and Leading Drummer may take up a position within the circle to
      ensure the best performance from the Band.
      4.38. The Band circle is intended as a guide to Bands.
      Version 5 13th March 2021
      4.39. Adjudicators must not enter the outer circle.
      Circle Size
      4.40. The centre of the circle shall be 14 metres from the start line. The Band circle shall have a diameter of 8 metres and
      the Adjudicators’ circle shall have a diameter of 14 metres.
      4.54. The musical performance shall be adjudicated from the first stroke of the first three pace roll on the quick march.

      I’d say from the above that its pretty clear bands have to stand in a circle and commence by playing more than one three pace roll “The First 3 Pace Roll” clearly indicates more than one is required!

      1. None of those rules use words like “must” or “shall”; they are merely assumptions predicated on what bands normally do, which was my point.

        Indeed, most bands form a competition egg, not a circle, and I don’t see them being disqualified.

  2. I suppose there is always the possibility that MSR might stay within the current format in the heats, and then something of Robert Matheson’s ideas in the finals, allowing a wider approach to medley? Such would cover for both camps.

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