Special Report: Meet your EUSPBA Presidential Candidates

I am always frustrated when it comes time to vote in the EUSPBA, and all we see about our candidates is a bio! While it’s great to get to know the backgrounds of our candidates, I’m more concerned with their objectives and ideologies when it comes to governing a HUGE body of pipers and drummers!

I really want Piper’s DoJo customers and followers to get a chance to know who they’re voting for as well.

So, about a month ago, I emailed the four presidential candidates with some “tough” and relevant questions about how they will run the EUSPBA should they get elected. Of the four, two responded in full; Albert McMullin and Eric MacNeill. Jimmy Bell respectfully opted not to comment, and Tommy Kee was having major computer problems that kept him from responding. I am hoping he will contribute his point of view when he is able to.

A lot of people tell me all the time that they dislike how the EUSPBA elections are always a popularity contest. This interview is put together in the hopes that you will now have a better chance of voting on your principles – rather than perhaps simply voting for the person you know, or that you’ve heard something about.

So, here are five questions, with responses from two of our candidates:

Question 1: Please introduce yourself and give us your most important credentials, in 100 words or less.

Albert McMullin: My name is Al McMullin. I live in Lawrenceville, Georgia and began piping in 1962. I played in the grade 2 City of Wilmington (DE) Pipe Band and was pipe major of the grade 2 Charlotte (NC) Scottish and grade 3 Atlanta Pipe Bands. I was the first American piper to win a prize (2nd place) in the Silver Medal at the Northern Meeting. In 1990 I was placed on the EUSPBA judges panel.
I am chair of the Southern Branch and have previously served the EUSPBA in just about every capacity from Music Board chair to Executive Committee president.

Eric MacNeill: I come from a piping and drumming family, and so pipe bands have been a major part of my life. My dad, Bill MacNeill, is a long time active snare drummer in Central New York who plays, teaches and has been involved with the Central NY Scottish Games. I first got involved in pipe bands with the Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band as a Drum Major student at age 5. I took an interest first in bass and tenor drumming and then snare drumming by the time I was 12 years old. I have studied with and been influenced by my dad, Jim Engle, Norman McLeod, and J. Reid Maxwell. Currently, I compete in the professional grade as a snare, bass, and tenor drummer, as well as Drum Major. I have led the Oran Mor Pipe Band Drum Corps since 2000 and have competed at the World Pipe Band Championships with the band since 2004 in grade 2 and now grade 1. Additionally, I have competed at the World Solo Drumming Championships since 2006. I am a full time pipe band drumming teacher and have had the privilege to travel throughout the EUSPBA to work with many excellent pipe bands and students. Currently I am completing the process to join the EUSPBA Judges Panel.

Question 1A: Please describe your recent musical participation in the EUSPBA, and also in the greater world of piping and drumming outside of the EUSPBA. Do you feel like active participation in the world of piping and drumming is relevant to your potential position as president? Why or why not?

EM: My most recent involvement with the EUSPBA has been during the 2010 season as the lead drummer for the Oran Mor Pipe Band, and in the professional solo snare drumming and Drum Major competitions. I have also been working with many bands in grades 5-3 throughout the EUSPBA to prepare them during this 2010 season. I have also participated with the Oran Mor Pipe Band at the Ulster Championships in Northern Ireland and at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow this past August and plan to attend the World Solo Drummming Championships this October. I believe that my active involvement at various levels of the association is very relevant to my potential position as president. I am in the process of working to push towards some of the highest playing standards in the association and also working with bands on projects to develop and grow at the beginning levels. My experience overseas helps me to be aware of the greater world standard and to realize what our association is doing well, and where we need to make improvements.

AM: After competing at the solo professional piping level for over 30 years, I decided to retire from competition. My primary musical focus is on teaching, judging and trying to provide input on musical matters to the Music Board.
I am not sure what the definition of “active participation” is exactly. I do believe having vast and varied musical experience is relevant. We are a musical organization and the leadership should know and, more importantly, appreciate as well as support the hard work, talent, dedication and money it takes to reach the highest levels of piping and drumming.
However, the membership should keep in mind that the true role of the Executive Committee is administrative. The president should be confident in his/her leadership abilities and team building skills. The president should make every effort to fill the Music Board with a blend of our best and brightest current talent as well as respected judges from a prior competitive era. I will state that it is very difficult recruiting the talent I would like to see on the Music Board. If the pipe majors and lead drummers are too busy to participate, they need to know without question that their comments, complaints and suggestions will always be welcome and given serious consideration.
No matter how much experience one has I have yet to meet anyone who has all the answers. I know I don’t have the perfect answers. But if I should be elected EUSPBA president you can count on me listening and seeking out those who are doing a great job with their band and/or their solo career…whether they like it or not…

Question 2: Explain to us, in your view, the importance of the EUSPBA. Should members really care about who gets elected president, or who gets elected to its other positions?

AM: Of course everyone should care about who is running the EUSPBA. Sadly, that is not the case. “Typical” members tend to care only about the things that directly affect them. I would wager there is far more interest in getting the Voice and membership cards in a timely manner than who is on the Executive Committee or Music Board. Let’s not forget the vast majority of our membership, both band and individual, are in the lower grades. To me the bigger question is should everyone, regardless of their competitive grade care about the successes of our top bands?
My answer to that question is a resounding “YES!” and I would like to find a way to inspire our large membership to share in the triumphs of our better bands and players. This is one of the harder, more complicated issues facing the EUSPBA. How do we meld all the different challenges into a true mission or goal? In my opinion, this should be one of the more important roles of a musical organization.

EM: The EUSPBA plays an important for all of us involved in piping and drumming. It is the organization that regulates the sanctioning of competitions, certifies and trains the adjudicators, is responsible for grading and re-grading of competitors, and with the money that we contribute in dues, has the ability to help foster and develop the members of the association through workshops and by communicating information through the VOICE magazine. The president of the EUSPBA plays a major role in overseeing all of these tasks.

Question 3: What is the single most important issue you will address as president of the EUSPBA?

EM: The single most important task is to improve the way the association serves the membership. As the EUSPBA has grown, it has become to large for the Executive committee alone to address each local need of the membership. For continued growth, I feel it is very important to re-visit the policies that concern branch operation to allow the branches to take action to support the membership.

AM: Tough question! I don’t believe there is a simple answer to this one…The most important issue is making every member of the EUSPBA feel they are part of an organization dedicated to better music. Regardless of grade I believe the president should make it very clear that every situation involving our membership will be handled fairly and equally. Too many times I have heard complaints that some people are treated differently because they were friends or students of someone “important.” That won’t happen if I am elected. I will expect every decision to be made with a clear focus on one thing: “Does it make good musical sense?”

Question 4: Please discuss any other issues you’d like to address as president.

AM: 1. The judges’ panel – I will admit to changing my mind about this over the years. Rather than go into boring detail, let me just say that we could never have too many good judges on our panel. We need to actively recruit potential future judges and bridge the perceived “gap” between judges and competitors. By that I mean once I am away from my judges table and score sheets I am no better and no worse than anyone else. If you disagree with my result you should not fear “payback” at some later date if you express your opinion. Although I completely understand the logic behind the most recent set of piping judges exams, I respectfully disagree with it. Specifically, several judges from other panels were required to take our written tests. If they passed the written tests, they would be immediately placed on our panel. To me, one of the more important aspects of judging is writing a good, understandable score sheet. Therefore, if a current judge from another panel wishes to join our panel, we should welcome that person and only require them to apprentice a few contests. That’s it. If they mess up, they should be removed like any other judge on our panel. Like I said, we will never have enough good judges. I would also like to know what our grade 1, 2 and top grade 3 pipe majors want to see on a score sheet. Once that is sorted out, do the same thing with the grade 4 & 5 bands.
2. The instructor rule – If elected president, I will suspend changing it. As a matter of fact, I think we should give serious consideration to allowing instructors all the way up to grade 2. Why? I did my homework on this and five of the current eight point winning grade 3 bands have a registered instructor. Like I said in my “official” bio that will be with your ballot, maybe we could learn a lesson from this and encourage more instructors for more bands. This does not mean encouraging “ringers” to play. But let’s not forget the true instructors seem to be making a positive difference with their bands on and off the field.
3. Grade 3 & 4 solo piping – We need to rethink what we are doing here. We need to more clearly define what “above grade level” means as well as not automatically assume someone with a lot of points in grade 4 is ready for grade 3. We also need to encourage judges to give at least one positive comment about how these lower grade players can improve and we need to encourage the recipient of the comment to work on truly improving.
4. Solo snare drumming – I would like to know how we can get your typical grade 5, 4 and even 3 band drummer to compete in solos. I understand the concept that a lot of drummers are not familiar with the complete band score but it seems to me we could find a way to get drummers and their pipers out from under their band tents and up on the boards.
5. If elected president I would like to form a “Technology Advisory Committee” for the purpose of exploring how the EUSPBA can be at the cutting edge of what is available and/or possible. No set guidelines but let’s just see where it will go.
6. Meetings – I know we have Skype and things like that but nothing beats sitting down face to face and discussing things. I think it is a good investment. We got a lot of things done when I was president and I honestly believe it was because of the nature of the meetings. Branches will be invited and encouraged to send representatives.

EM: I am excited to serve the EUSPBA membership as president and am looking forward to helping the association improve both organizationally and musically. The recent advances with the VOICE are excellent and I look forward to seeing the magazine continue to develop. I am interested in seeing the association use technology to process and post results more quickly. I am committed to working to align the EUSPBA standards and requirements with international standards. I believe it is important to encourage advanced players and teachers to support and build up their local pipe band communities while providing them the opportunity for professional development by competing with a higher grade band through the instructor rule.

Question 5: The Purpose of our Association, as laid out in our by-laws, is as follows: “…the Association shall engage in such activities and programs as will improve all aspects of bagpipe music, piping and drumming with respect to both pipe band playing and individual playing, provide means of communication and interaction for pipe bands, pipers and drummers, foster greater public appreciation and understanding of piping and drumming, create and promote bonds of fellowship and camaraderie among pipers and drummers, and devise and operate a comprehensive and equitable system for conducting and judging pipe band contests and individual piping and drumming contests.” That’s a lot of stuff! Is the EUSPBA currently living up to this purpose? If yes, explain how. If not, what will you do to get us back on the right track?

EM: For all of these tasks, there is a system in place to “make it happen”. Much of this mission is accomplished through the actions of competitions, workshops, and the VOICE. Different parts of the association have different needs to completely live up to this mission. I believe there is definitely room to improve here and better fulfill this mission by allowing the branches the ability to address the needs within their local areas.

AM: This is an easy question. The short answer is “NO.” The harder answer is what are the solutions? We have a pyramid membership structure. By that I mean the higher the grade the fewer the members. I do not intend to ignore the lower part of the pyramid and I will be trying to get an idea of what they are expecting from the EUSPBA. I think I already know what the top end of the pyramid wants, especially the bands. I did not particularly like the complaints expressed by some anonymous posters about the lack of travel money or higher prize money for the lower grade bands at the 2010 version of the EUSPBA championships. I do believe the contest ignored the more distant branches travel money wise and that won’t happen again on my watch. However, anyone who resents his or her dues money going to a greater good (i.e. big prize money for our best bands) does not need to bother voting for me because I will try to explore more ways to get our better bands to more contests. This could involve the spending of EUSPBA funds to accomplish this goal but we are a musical organization and we should “engage in such activities and programs as will improve all aspects…” Let’s start with the top and work our way down.

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