The Role of Pipe Band Management

We hear and read all the time about difficulties behind the scenes in pipe bands, committee resignations, pipe major rows, drum corps fall outs. The late P/M Denver Cardwell was alert to this and how it affected a band and its performance on the field. He and had done some work on a management template for the smooth running of the pipe band. It was recently re-discovered in our archives and we reproduce it here as a small memorial to the man who did so much for the pipe band world throughout his long career. With the season fast approaching we hope that the following will be of some assistance to bands.


By Denver Cardwell

Apart from the obvious objective of creating a competition winning band the principles in this role could be assessed as a management team with the pipe major as the most important controlling factor. It is essential that the team should consist of a Chairman, Administrative Officer (Secretary), Treasurer, Stocktaker and Travel Administrator. If possible, the management team, apart from the pipe major, should be non-playing members. Once these officers are established the pipe major can get on with his primary objectives and produce the band. He has to have man management qualities as well as an abundance of leadership ability. He must know the traits and psychological moods of all his players. An enormous amount of understanding is an essential ingredient as the personalities of each individual are different.Some are more sensitive than others and reactions to criticism at an inopportune moment can cause offence.

Basic Understanding
Conversation is an important aspect of the pipe major’s relationship with his team. In the process of ‘getting the job done’ he needs to be able to undertake an assessment of the performance, at periods, if difficulties are to be overcome and standards achieved and maintained. A lot depends on the content and character of the conversation which the pipe major embarks upon and how constructive it is. Let’s look at some essential characteristics of the encounters with the band members.

  • At the very least it should provide an opportunity for re-affirmation / clarification of the standards being achieved and some assessment of how far the performance is coming up to expectations.
  • If it is to be useful then it should be based on accurate, recorded (if possible) information, and not on reactive, subjective impressions and opinions – otherwise there is little chance of agreement and a very good chance of conflict and rancour.[wds id=”4″]

The conversation should aim to be helpful in jointly determining:

• What went wrong
• Why it was successful
• Next practical steps
• Changes
• Actual targets

Above all there must be a motivating influence. Clearly, the encounter must carry a sense of discipline with it; yet it will be characterised by warmth, openness and honesty.

The Need for Review
Whether it is by conversation or in a more formal manner, there is an obvious need for performance review. This must be accepted and at its simplest the rev.iew is a means of ensuring that current performance by the band can be used effectively to influence future results and achievements. It serves to remind both pipe major and his members of the interdependence of their roles and can create the opportunity for each to state exactly what one requires of the other for the good of the band.

The growth of professionalism in pipe bands and their management has seen the recognition of a more analytical and informed approach to performance. Specifically, pipe majors are coming to see that they should:

• Define accurately what is expected of players
• Be precise in deciding what i s a requisite performance, i.e.    ‘optimisation’ rather than simply  ‘maximisation’
• Define accurately the causes and obstacles of inadequate performances
• Develop and use the skills and strengths of individual band members
• Eliminate a fragmented approach to band management and settle on a constructive approach to performance

Delegation by Pipe Major
Apart from the management of a band from an administrative point of view, as described in the introduction, it is imperative that the pipe major should have no barriers in respect of delegation. He must make full use of his Pipe Sergeant(s) and continually liaise with his leading drummer whilst retaining overall command.

Cliques should not be permitted to develop, as bands have floundered at the behest of such obscene, exclusive sets of associates. He must ensure that learners are given all the tuition necessary to bring them up to the standards required and a special initiative must be deployed in respect of learners.

It is appreciated that in most pipe bands the members are volunteers and strict discipline is difficult to rigidly enforce. However, there is a certain element involved in every band who, of necessity, require to be controlled. The controlling factor is generally in the hands of the pipe major and this is where his powers of leadership and man-management must come to the surface. He should have the ability to adequately deal with any breaches of discipline and it is absolutely essential that this is clearly demonstrated to other members.

He must never display fits of temper or use aggressive language in the public view and opposing bands should be treated with respect. Neither he nor other band members should ever make any show of resentment whatever the result of any contest may be. Dress and demeanour are all important and by allowing these aspects to deteriorate leaves not only the band but the RSPBA open to criticism.

Contest Preparation
There is no need to stress how important it is to have a clear idea of the strategy to be put into operation on the day of a competition. Whilst first class preparation may have taken place prior to a contest this can all evaporate on the day itself if planning has not been adequately attended to. The pipe major must have a fixed timetable and players who do not adhere to this must be dealt with unless mitigating circumstances exist. Weather conditions should be observed and nothing must be permitted to affect the band approaching the line other than in a proper, sober frame of mind.

Professionalism is the key word in this context and to be successful this must be maintained throughout the preparation and actual contest.

We have all witnessed promising business projects flounder because of the lack of basic management technique and this generally makes sad and cruel reading. There is no acceptable reason why a pipe band should not ensure that its management principles are set in tablets of stone so that it can aspire from solid foundations. When all extraneous matters are dealt with by an independent group then the pipe major can get on with the task of producing the musical aspects. In closing I would advise against a fragmented, haphazard approach as this will not produce anything worthwhile at the end of the day.


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