Pipe Band Formations and Transitioning Away from the Circle – Part 2

Dollar Academy playing in concert formation at the Scottish Schools Championship with judges seated in front

Suggestions have been made from time to time for the circle formation to be replaced by a concert style semi-circle, the main argument being that bands would be able to face their audience. 

It is not a new idea as the RSPBA conducted trials of the format in 1998 but decided not to implement it at that time.  I do not recall the reasons ever being made public.  As always there would be logistical problems were the format to be introduced and, while I agree these would not be insurmountable, the full implications would need to be properly thought through and explained to all concerned in detail. 

By Alistair Aitken OBE,
former RSPBA Adjudicator

It is unlikely that the format could be applied across all grades at all five RSPBA Major Championships, so I think we are talking about only the Grade 1 competition at the Worlds.  Even so, it would not surprise me if someone complained that it would be seen as unfair to the lower grades as the RSPBA is an organisation responsible for all its membership.

If Grade 1 qualifiers were again introduced for the Friday on account a high number of entries, a second arena apart from the main stand one would probably be needed.  The semi-circle format would probably only be possible for the Grade 1 Final in the main arena.


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Unless the L shape of the existing stand at the Worlds was straightened out or curved more, all of the spectators would be unable to see and hear the competing pipe bands actually facing them. 

Many of the spectators would still be seeing and hearing the performances from the side or rear in the standing area to the right of the stand (or even more from rear of the band if that was even possible as presumably there would still have to be some form of band entry point). 

These problems could possibly be partly overcome by reducing the size of the competing area which could be achieved easily as the bands are presently well clear of the stand and the standing spectators.  

Ideally the pipe bands would all need to position their players in the same way if a common sound projection was to be achieved; and this would depend on where the adjudicators were located.  It would be easier if all the adjudicators were in front of the semi-circle.

I agree that the sound projection forward might not be significantly different, particularly for those sitting in the stand as the sound rises more collectively; but at ground level there could be greater chanter and less drone volume for the adjudicators depending on how they were positioned. 



The drum corps would also need to ensure that the best combined drum sound projected forwards with their revised positioning to balance with the pipers.

All the players would not be able to see the Leading Drummer and Bass Drummer although all would see the Pipe Major as it is normal in concert formation for the Pipe Major to stand facing the players (although some might argue that in itself could create a slight sound distortion for the adjudicators depending on their positioning).

There would need to be sufficient space for at least the ensemble adjudicator to hear the performances a good distance from the front of the band.  My preference would be for all three disciplines of adjudicator to judge from the front.  As I have argued previously this could be achieved for the circle or semi-circle formation with all four adjudicators seated on a raised platform extending out from the main stand. 

In that way they could see all the players, hear the same sound projection and have more time to write their critiques.  The platform could also have a cover for inclement weather (which would not affect the view from the main stand if designed properly). 

A question often raised in the past regarding the position of adjudicator tents is whose needs are most important  –  the adjudicators or the spectators.  The ideal would be to find a balance that meets the needs of both.

I see no reason why the RSPBA could not once again consider such a change.  It would be a decision for the membership and would require to be ratified at an AGM.  As has been pointed out Glasgow Life has the primary responsibility for many aspects of the World Championships. 

The RSPBA, however, is responsible for the layout and dimensions of the various competition arenas and presumably would be able to influence the revised layout and dimensions of the main stand.

  • To be concluded. Read Part 1 here.

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