No Lack of Piping and Drumming Ideas Here in the EUSPBA

People lament the lack of ideas and progress in our eastern piping and drumming competition sphere. Much lip service is given to “thinking outside the box” in order to shake up eastern piping and drumming competition. Each year, the EUSPBA hosts their Annual General Meeting (AGM) and each branch brings forth proposals to do just that. A quick glance of proposals brought up at past EUSPBA AGMs reveals that plenty of folks have had plenty of great ideas over many years for revamping our scene and fostering improvement.

Trouble is, what happens to those ideas? Many proposals brought up at your typical EUSPBA AGM are either killed altogether by vote with the good ones sent to the Music Board and/or Executive Committee for further discussion and, hopefully, some sort of implementation. But how do we know which ones languish or which ones are actually discussed? A lot of these proposals, if adopted in any form, would by now bring about innovative changes in competition format, content, or competition rules. Yet nothing like that has happened save the recent changes to Grade 5 playing requirements, Grade 4 solo piobaireachd requirements, and Grade 3 band instructors. All of which have seeming strong opposition save from the few who allowed them to pass.

But that is the process we have. Way back in 2004 there was a proposal to limit the playing instructor to Grades 4 and 5 bands only and disallow the same in Grade 3. This was sent to the Music Board for review and, presumably, based on the action taken, it took six full years of discussion to eventually arrive at the decision we now have for the 2011 season. A review of proposals also indicates that Grade 4 piobaireachd requirements were never brought up at all nor were they sent to the Music Board for review in at least the last five years.

If past proposals are any indication, the EUSPBA competition scene has had a plethora of ways to bolster itself, its bands, and its soloists—all from the minds of its members. Yet, what we eventually see—seemingly years later—are changes that offer dubious forward motion and that bear little resemblance to prior proposals. .

So, let’s take a look at a smattering of proposals that have come up and passed to the MB or EC for discussion in the recent past.

  • AGM 2009: Split Grade 4 into two grades—4A and 4B—with a new playing requirement of a “mini” MSR for 4A.
  • AGM 2008: Create a separate Juvenile pipe band class of competition.
  • AGM 2008: Change the pipe band medley requirements to add an option for a pipe band to not form a circle, nor begin with two, three-pace rolls. Bands could form from the line using whatever formation that was most musically advantageous.
  • AGM 2008: Alternate between 6/8 and 2/4 marches for Grade 4 solo contests.
  • AGM 2007: Change the Grade 1 pipe band requirements from two medleys to one medley in line with all other associations around the world.
  • AGM 2005: Create more opportunities for professional level competitors to compete at sanctioned contests.
  • AGMs 2005, 2007, and 2008: Create a transitional strathspey/reel event for Grade 3 (lightening requirements) and 4 solo players (creating requirements). (It is interesting to note that this item was killed in ’05 and ’07 and passed to the Music Board in ’08.)
  • 2005: Establish a list of “recommended tunes” for lower-grade solo competitors.
  • 2005: Expand ensemble education (then provided strictly to EUSBPA judges) to all EUSPBA bands.

The impulse for change and evolution is right. What’s not right is operating under the premise that there has been a lack of good ideas to move things forward.

True innovation is bold and sometimes destructive. Even small steps in the right direction can have profound effects. The old chestnut “We won’t know until we try” rings true. And there is certainly much to gained when we try bold things. But what is becoming clear is that, for whatever reason, nothing bold has been tried here in the east for a long time despite a lengthy list of possibilities from every corner of the EUSPBA. What will happen to the bold proposals offered at this year’s AGM? Excellent question.

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