People heavily involved in the competitive pipe band world (without doubt a far smaller group than those immersed in the “non-competing” pipe band world) know the scoop, the “gen”, when it comes to how the Worlds thing works. We know, when it comes to the Worlds, intense participant passion is the way it is; passion, and for the event itself, a litany of Byzantine rules and quirky subtext.
A friend recently asked me about this year’s Worlds: “How’d the band do?”.
“Um,” I say, “Not great, we didn’t make it through the qualifier”.
“Oh,” says nameless friend, “so you didn’t play at the World Pipe Band Championships”. [note: this was a statement and not a question].
“Yikes!,” says me, to myself, in that instant tipping-point-cum-eureka moment. OF COURSE! My pal was right. I didn’t play in the World Pipe Band Championships. My band did not play in the World Pipe Band Championships. We never got through the gate. We bought a ticket, maybe, to the lottery, but didn’t get a real chance to line up our skills on a level playing field with the rest of our like-graded comrades – we never got to play our ticket. The band dabbled in Q school. “Q school”: in professional golf, you’ll know, I’m sure, the term qualifying school is used for the annual qualifying tournaments for leading (read: glamour, big-money) golf tournaments; a (small) set number of players in the event win the right to tour and compete in professional events.
The bands in the premier grade Q school are pretty excellent. It has been estimated that there are over 10,000 pipe bands in the world. The bands at Q school hover around the number of 14. So Q school bands might be said to represent .0014 of the pipe band world. Not to sound too much like a poncie bastard, but really, this is a fairly rarefied group.
I ask myself today: for bands like the Toronto Police Pipe Band, or, now, for that matter, the 78th Fraser Highlanders, the Australian Highlanders or New Zealand’s Manawatu bands, currently relegated to “Q school” , is it worth the mammoth investment to journey to the Worlds? Since the RSPBA started the Q school format there has only been one band to play in Q school and reach the final top-six prize list: the redoubtable 78th Frasers. Not encouraging odds.
I think happy thoughts back to, say, 1987, when the Worlds had no Q school. The event was never more electric than when, in the premier grade, bands performed their medley, tuned for 20 minutes, and finished up with an MSR. In 1987 I was a member of the band last to play, number 25, an experience not to be forgotten. To the paying audience, in those days? Well, it just didn’t get better.
With the global economy in shreds, people (read: bandspeople) fearing for their jobs, and priorities in the lives of everyone – including those of us who play the drums and bagpipes – seriously refocused, I wonder about the “Worlds”. As it is, is it worth it?
The politically correct side of me (the 10% side of me) says, “I don’t know”. But, really, I think it is not. In total, there are only about 20-25 bands now who play in the premier, grade one, event. Less than the 30-plus grade two championship, much less than the grades 3 and 4 events.
This year the Toronto Police Pipe Band, led by PM Ian K MacDonald, one of the world’s best solo march, strathspey and reel players, received this comment on our score sheet from the ensemble category judge: “…in my opinion, not playing in the Scottish idiom…”
Well. I’ll leave judgement to you, and simply say we invested upwards of a $100,000 to honk on the field that morning.
80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.
A thoughtful spend? Everything considered, I repeat, I don’t think so.
The RSPBA undertakes dozens of great initiatives. The Q school format is not one of them.
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