Our Juggernaut Pipe Bands – Are They a Good Thing?

The two hot topics of the pipe band winter have been the major championships and band sizes. The first is now settled with a final announcement on the forth and fifth majors expected from the RSPBA on Monday.

The second continues, with PP readers to the fore as witnessed yesterday in the letter from David Cross, Northern Ireland. In response…..

Eric McGaw: I agree with some things that David has said but this is not something which is new and has been going on for some time not only in Grade One.

Surely the band referred to does indeed teach younger players from scratch as a lot of them are taught by the Pipe Sergeant in a school band in Scotland – and what a band they are. 

The first grade I listen to at any major competition is indeed the Juvenile grade and the standard is amazing. Unfortunately very few are taught from scratch in Northern Ireland.


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There are a few places that young players from NI should be going to in order to learn the rudiments correctly none more so than the NI Piping and Drumming School.

I myself am involved with the only Novice Juvenile B band in NI. The ethos of our band is to teach the rudiments correctly in order that the young people can move on to better bands as they progress. 

This can be very challenging particularly on a Saturday, as once they get into the competition arena there are no adult players to help them. Unfortunately due to the current crisis our ethos may have to change in order to get more players into the band.

We had hoped that others would have followed our lead and that NJB bands would have been set up in each county and that the best players would come together as a juvenile band and compete against the best bands in Scotland.

Sadly this has not been the case. When these players reached 18 they could then go back into their own bands and strengthen them. 

I am well aware of the cost both financially and the commitment needed to start a band from scratch. The instructors involved in our band are second to none and the band was indeed their idea from the start. 

The Scottish model of every school needs a pipe band is light years ahead of us, as are the systems in New Zealand, USA and Canada. Just look up our own branch website and scroll down the right hand side and you can see very few names winning major championships.

As David says what is the future of pipe banding in NI that is a question I am unable to answer but he is correct that it gets smaller year on year and no one appears to be trying to do anything about it.

Alastair McInnes: The superbands, amazing that they are, come at the expense of the lesser groups. There has always been the attraction to be part of the juggernaut, but the carnage at the bottom is very real.

Regulation is the best way to distribute wealth. Surely 18/6/4/1 can be heard well enough in the nosebleed seats.


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