Hacking Bagpipe Competitions: Idea 2—The Sanctioning Plus Grant
Highland games and cultural festivals in general sit on a financial precipice. They serve an extremely narrow subset of the public in spite of every effort to make them more generally appealing. And as hard as they try, these games have an annual challenge to draw the crowds needed to sustain themselves. One or two rainy years and these games are suddenly faced with the prospect of shutting down completely. Add to this already stress-inducing burden spending money on a bagpiping competition for soloists and bands all imposed by the governing policy of the EUSPBA, and the games suddenly have one more boulder to roll uphill.
The EUSPBA is in a position to provide quite a bit more than just advice to back up the imposition it places on Highland games. Anything beyond that advice is naturally going to take the form of some sort of funding or spending. In lieu of any other brainstorming for solutions, we’ll tackle the subject here at Pipehacker with ideas that are hopefully actionable and concrete (such as Idea 1.). Here is Idea 2 for hacking bagpipe competitions: The Sanctioning Plus Grant.
One of the clear byproducts of the EUSPBA bagpipe competition “system,” if you will, is that bagpipers, drummers, and pipe bands can expect that every event that they attend in the eastern circuit will be exactly the same. This applies whether the games are large, small, medium, clustered together, or spread thither and yon. The fact that all games can obtain the same sanctioning from the EUSPBA and have their event count the same way as any other is viewed as a strength of the system by many. But the system has a weakness.
The weakness is, well, that all games can obtain the same sanctioning from the EUSPBA and have their event count the same way as any other.
All events are not equal. Let’s be frank about this. It is not the same experience personally or competitively to compete head-to-head in a two person (or two band) contest as it is playing against ten, twenty, or thirty of your bagpiping or drumming peers. In Scotland, they make no bones about it. There are bagpiping events and then there are Bagpiping Events. There are certain solo and band competitions that are plainly recognized as being a cut above the rest and no one tries to make pretenses to the contrary. Here in the EUSPBA circuit, we can all admit that there are certain events that hold higher esteem in our minds. But look for an outward sign that these events are more special than any other and you will not find one. All contests are the same, ergo, all accomplishments at those contests hold the same regard. More than sixty sanctioned competitions. The same points. The same prize money. The same plastic trophy.
There have been attempts to raise the stature of some events by designating an “EUSPBA Pipe Band Championship,” but these attempts have been sporadic with the latest attempt being hardly noteworthy at all. They’ve also been solely driven by the oversight body of the EUSPBA itself.
I’ve written about this idea before in “The Path to Better Pipe Band Competitions.” The Highland Dance model elevates some events over others and regards those who enter and win as a cut above. The EUSPBA can create a similar model. But instead of generating the format for a series of competitions and imposing them on the games, the EUSPBA could provide an opportunity for the Highland games themselves to step forward and generate proposals for formats that will add greater significance and meaning to the event. The EUSPBA could offer a “Sanctioning Plus” package that awards a grant of funds for winning proposals.
What the Sanctioning Plus grant entails is offering a limited number of grants to offset the out-of-pocket costs of running bagpiping and drumming competitions. Games must submit a proposal for their event offerings that would hopefully include additional features that provide an enhanced experience for competitors. In other words, provide an incentive for the games to figure out what they can do to make their events more special.
As an added speciality, the EUSPBA could establish that the points earned at a games with a Sanctioning Plus award would be worth double or triple the norm. This would attract more competitors to the event making it a bigger, more notable competitive field. It also thus provides a greater benefit to the games in entry fees and gate admissions, making the Sanctioning Plus grant that much more valuable.
The Sanctioning Plus package does not discriminate. Any games—large or small—can submit proposals for the grant. The grant would provide larger games an opportunity to bring competitions to a higher level and create a new, more robust experience. The grant would provide smaller, or perhaps newer games the opportunity to expand, attract entrants, and place them on more equal footing with their larger compatriots that might be better financed and longer lived. Bagpipers, drummers, and pipe bands are thus offered more meaningful opportunities to compete.
What would a proposal for a “sanctioning plus” grant include? Use your imagination! We’ve all imagined things we would like to see more of at competitions. Here are just a few ideas for what Highland games could include:
- A more complete array of solo competitions for all grades with added opportunities to play.
- Original formats for competitions such as free-form medleys for soloists and “mini-concerts” for pipe bands.
- Increased prize money and opportunities for professional grade soloists.
- Special symposiums or seminars with judges.
- A separate competitor station tent with food and drink.
- Special awards or recognition for various categories of win.
- Solo and band competition areas that are not stuck in the back corners of the grounds.
This list goes on and it is only limited by the creativity of the folks making the proposal. Of course, deciding which features or combination of features merit a Sanctioning Plus grant is a bit trickier. For this, a simple questionnaire administered by the EUSPBA to its membership would supply all the information needed to weigh certain features over others.
Added financial support for Highland games to run bagpiping competitions and an enhanced competitive experience for piper, drummer, and band? It’s win–win for all involved.