Pipehacker Travelogue: The World Pipe Band Championships, Glasgow, Scotland
Suffice it to say, the World Pipe Band Championships is the climax to many a pipe band’s competitive season. The Grade 1 circle at the Worlds is THE circle from which all other pipe band circles descend. This year, the Oran Mor pipe band made it through the wet qualifier into the drier and warmer Grade 1 final and had the distinction of being one of the top 6 bands to move through the qualifying round into the final. In other words, one of the top 14 pipe bands in the world to play on that circle. It’s an achievement that few bands can claim
and only achieved once before by an American band but is now one that all American Grade 1 bands can.
Every time I try to describe to people the atmosphere at Glasgow Green on the day of the Worlds, I attempt to capture the energy and thrill that is evident all day. I try, but then I show up on the day and realize my descriptions have all been inadequate. There are no words to describe the atmosphere, the activity, and the general “buzz” throughout the day. Herman Melville said it best in Moby Dick: “There are some enterprises in which an ordered chaos is the true method.” He was talking about whaling of course, but I think that is the Worlds in a nutshell. It all defies definition and description. You have to see it for yourself.
And the event keeps getting bigger and better. The Worlds may have always occupied a big space in the competitive pipe bandsman’s head, but you wouldn’t know it from the look of the event once upon a time. Back then, and even until fairly recently, the Worlds looked like your average pipe band contest with several band circles and folks crammed together elbow to elbow on the grass to watch. A big deal, yes, but now there are grandstands with paid seats, jumbotron screens blasting the Grade 1 around the whole park, live web streaming with commentary, and a level of energy that is matched by only the biggest sporting events in the world.
The evolution of the event over the years is paralleled possibly by the evolution of American bagpipe bands. I’ve mentioned earlier that there was an unprecedented 15 U.S. pipe bands making the trip to the Worlds this year, with at least one band in every grade but the Juveniles. Out of the eastern US bands, The NY Metro Pipe Band distinguished themselves by winning the Grade 3B in their first overseas outing. The Grade 2 Stuart Highlanders of Massachussetts also made an impressive 5th place showing in their first Glasgow jaunt and taking firsts in the piping to boot. As mentioned, Oran Mor passed through the qualifying round into the “big show,” the Grade 1 final in only their third attempt as a Grade 1 band. The only other US Grade 1 band to make the trip, the L.A. Scots, also passed through to the final. The 2011 Worlds saw North America represented by both U.S. and both western Canadian pipe bands, with both eastern Canadian bands absent. The day was historic and memorable all around for this pipehacker and hopefully presages bigger and better things to come for American pipe bands.