Hacking the Bagpiping Judge Part I: Why Can’t You Be a Bagpiping Judge?

It takes seven plus seven years to make a piper so it’s said, but it takes ten years of accomplished activity at the highest level of competition, a lengthy exam, and the initial approval of an elite few to be a piping judge in the EUSPBA.

Why must this be so? We’ve all done our share of sideline judging and many of us have the knowledge and insight to probably do as good a job as anyone out there on the pitch. So why can’t you be a piping or drumming judge? Is the current EUSPBA criteria really needed in order to make them?

The requirements and criteria to make this list of three dozen or so EUSPBA-qualified judges are clearly spelled out on page 14 of the EUSPBA Policy Manual. The qualifications being what they are, piping and drumming judges are held on a pretty high pedestal by us mere piping mortals twisting our drones on games day. The EUSPBA can lay claim to having the strictest requirements in the world for its judges panel. So strict, in fact, that the panel’s growth has been tepid at best over the last eight years.

We are all guilty of the unquestioned assumption that qualified and competent judging is essential to keeping the quality of piping and drumming high and moving it higher. But if anyone needs to check, the overall quality of piping and drumming in the eastern U.S. does not seem to measure up to the standard elsewhere in the world or, even, elsewhere on this continent. If the assumption is indeed correct then its inverse is also correct. If we have low quality piping overall, then what kind of judging do we have? It should be noted too that other associations have not exactly been eager to invite EUSPBA panel judges to judge at their competitions over the years.

If we want good players we need good judges, that’s why the requirements are set so high, right? Most of the pipers and drummers on the EUSPBA panel have been there for a long, long time—long before the current criteria existed. Only a small few have even come close to meeting the criteria and many of the newest members of the panel only meet the criteria tangentially. It is logical to imagine that it is possible that many of the oldest names on the panel would not meet the requirements were they applied to them now.

These are just the facts as they exist. Judge them as you will. I do not question the folks currently on the EUSPBA panel, but I do question the assumptions behind the process to get and keep them there. A process that only until recently had not exactly been invigorated with new faces for quite some time.

As a result, we have a static, relatively unchanged judging panel that represents a restricted experience and a singular point of view. The system in place guarantees that it will never change. If that point of view is not producing the results in the quality of players and bands in its purview, then different points of view are needed.

This does not mean inviting more pipers and drummers to jump through the hoops of the EUSPBA system. That only reinforces the weaknesses. What it means is doing away with the system that puts judges on the panel in the first place and replacing it with something that invites deeper and richer perspectives.

Will piping and drumming in the eastern U.S. really suffer a worse fate than it already experiences year after year if pipers and drummers who do not meet the current unrealistic criteria end up on the panel? I think not. It is high time knowledgeable pipers and drummers with intelligence, insight, and discerning tastes were given an opportunity to sit on the EUSPBA judges panel regardless of unattainable measures of success or pedigree or connections. Maybe it is in the nature of pipers and drummers to overcomplicate everything we do but the selection of adjudicators need not be so strict and overwrought.

Listen closely. Hear that? What you don’t hear are the sounds of western North American bagpiping and drumming collapsing in on itself. Out there, piping and drumming judges are ranked based on real world activity. No test, no arbitrary number of active competitive years. Selection is self-determined. If you think you would make a good judge, you submit yourself to be ranked among your peers based on your “résumé” of real world experience. You don’t have the competitive success needed? Then you are not going to become a judge just yet. Have moderate success? Then perhaps your ranking will be as a “B” level judge and the ability to judge only certain grades or disciplines. The top level judges are those deemed so by fellow judges who share the same level of success. The system is self-regulating. If you want to rank higher and keep that ranking, you must stay actively performing and striving for greater success. Such a system hasn’t hurt the western coast of Canada too much. Last time I checked, there were a couple of decent bands out thattaway.

What would a system to rank and select a judges panel with varied experience and points of view look like? Keep watching this space for Part II.

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