Pipe Bands: From Good to Great

What is the missing link that keeps good and very good eastern U.S. bands from becoming very very good to excellent? While there are singular examples who come close, in general there have been few who even show signs of cracking this “glass piping ceiling.” It is easy to pin this missing element on people-oriented things like “discipline” and “commitment.” Those are certainly key things, but it is something more than that. Couple those mystery elements with the U.S. culture of desire for instant gratification, and you can show many a band unable or unwilling to pinpoint their missing link and make the long term investment needed to develop a solid core of players.

That’s not to say that competitive bands in the US do not work hard. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, surmises that hard work is not enough, and that it is a shared set of principles or ideas within a company that will drive that company to the upper echelons of American business. Ultimately, building the successful band is not much different. It is about building, creating, and adopting, a band “language”—cultural habits that permeate your rehearsals, your relationships, and your approach to developing good music. Rugged individualists that we are, Americans do not seem to value that level of psychological surrender to the group. Is this perhaps why Scottish, Irish, and Canadian pipe bands have developed faster and are, well, just better? Is it the culture of those countries and the psychology they instill in individuals the needed component to building success in a pipe band?

Americans can certainly show a tremendous amount of passion and commitment to causes we care about. The news is filled with many examples these days. And we pipers and drummers can certainly show passion for our craft. Creating a set of shared values and work ethic within a pipe band is not as difficult as it sounds. So what is it that keeps good bands from being great bands here in the USA?

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