At 56 Bill Caudill is the recently-appointed President of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. By geographical area, and perhaps numbers, it is the largest piping association in the world. This week he has been instructing at the Florida Pipe and Drum Academy in Jacksonville and our editor took the opportunity of interviewing him about his new role.
Membership?: ‘We have in excess of 700 solo members and more than 130 bands covering the area from Maine down to Florida and including Texas and west to the Mississippi River. We run 62 contests per year; solos in the morning, bands in the afternoon. It is a massive undertaking.’
Constitution? ‘We are a democratic organisation. Each band has seven votes and each member has a single vote.
‘We have an Executive Committee and a Music Board. If we want to change contest procedures or add an event we can do so. This year we’ve added an 18 and under solo category which we think will encourage young players. They play in their regular grade but also in the Under 18. That’s the flexibility we have.
‘If we take a decision on something which makes it more difficult for a competitor, we will announce it but wait a year before it is introduced to give competitors time to prepare. That’s common sense.’
Contact with the RSPBA? ‘I have not had any personal liaison with the RSPBA yet, though there was contact over the World Solo Drumming heats being held at Dunedin in Florida and that worked well.’
History? ‘The Association has been going since the early 70s and there was an iteration before that going back to the days of Duncan MacAskill. There’s a rich history there.’
Successes? ‘We are getting players out of our association making their mark on the world stage. Our Music Board Chairman is Nick Hudson, the 2022 Gold Medallist.
‘That gave us a tremendous lift and it says a lot about the status of playing here right now. We can go back to the time of Mike Cusack being the first US piper to win the Gold Medal and before that we had Albert McMullin being the first American to take a prize in the Silver Medal contest.
‘Overall the scene is healthier than it has ever been before and we want to keep that momentum going by getting younger players engaged. That is our biggest challenge. We have seen declines in numbers there.
Your home state of North Carolina? ‘Where I live was once the largest Scottish settlement in all of North America. The immigrants came straight from the Highlands and got off the boat at Wilmington. There was no long-lasting piping or fiddling tradition but there were a lot of conservative Presbyterians! When I was in the Carolinas as a young boy I was very lucky to be close to a metropolitan area that at least had a competent piper.
‘Now in the same area you are not more than a couple of hours away from a someone who can get you started. It wasn’t always like that. One of my teachers was taught by a man from Ayrshire, Jack Smith, who founded the first pipe band south of the Mason-Dixon line. And that was in the 1940s. But though we were little behind bands in the north east US, only a few years ago we had Grade 3 bands of a world standard.
Bands? ‘We need work on getting the bands back. Several went under during covid. We have a lot of recovery to do.
‘We have the Grade 1 City of Dunedin band, and within out boundary we have the St Thomas Alumni band as well, though they are not yet members of EUSPBA. That may change as the year goes on.
‘We have a fairly healthy Grade 2 scene and our Grade 5 bands have come back strongly but we lost a lost of the Grade 3 bands. That’s where we really lacking right now. This is the breeding ground.
Piping in the US? ‘In general it is much more mainstream than it ever has been. We’re here at this Academy with a lot of service personnel, police and fire department people. That used to be something you only got in the north east. Now it is everywhere. Any time you see funeral for a fallen police officer for fireman you hear a set of bagpipes.
‘Thirty years ago that wasn’t a thing here in the south, but it’s now spread nationwide and that’s been a good thing. Our goal as an association would be to try to engage with the service bands to offer our educational resources and engagement in our events.
Message? ‘My message to pipers and drummers in our area is that the EUSPBA is here for everyone and we are working on some new outreach activities and are going to make more things available to you. The members are the heart of the association.
‘We have seen a little decline recently for a variety of reasons but we need to keep our membership replenished by engaging even more with young pipers and drummers and that is certainly what we are planning to do.’