A Healthy Band: It’s About Feeling Good

December 16, 2010 on 7:41 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Tips, Whinges | 6 Comments

We’re entering the time of year (in the northern hemisphere, at least) where pipe bands experience a drop in consistently good attendance. For as long as I have played in bands this has been a truth. From January through to March a good whack of the band, a sizable group of people (usually the same), fail to attend, or attend sporadically, due to “busy-ness” – or whatever. Excuses are legion and, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker [she of “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”], they run the gamut from A to B. The reasons may be unique to those “busy” but to core membership – and every band has a hardcore group of members that keep the ship afloat – they bore.

To be in a constant state of busy, well, that’s a life choice. Playing in a band is a life choice, too. Is the installation of hardwood floors in the new house on a Sunday practice day (instead of a jaunty Wednesday night) a life choice? It’s a choice, for sure. How many family gatherings coincident with practice day can any one person have? Is core membership so devoid of humanity, or personal commitment, that sees them with no family that calls on their absence from band practice? I imagine members of the scary Duggar family have more free time than some people I know who claim a desire to play in a pipe band.

Anyway, I say you can either play in a band – or not. A band is a fragile thing. A band is a crazy little ecosystem. An ecosystem: a system formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment. Yep. That’s a pipe band. When it comes to a healthy pipe band and a membership that’s firing away on all cylinders I say it’s chronically crappy attendees that are the global warming to the pipe band “ice cap”.

In the reality that is the pipe band world of the 21st century there will always be valued members of the pipe band “ecosystem” that have been granted by membership sporadic attendance status due to distance, or, some seriously extenuating situation. These are exceptions to the rule. [A funny thing, from my experience: these exceptions would be “core members” should they reside closer to the pipe band home.]

Anyway, in the end, it’s really simple: you can do it – or you can’t.

As I trudge forward, gain a bit of what I hope is wisdom, it seems to me, more and more, that the true definition of a good pipe band differs very little from that sometimes said of a good friendship: one feels better after having spent time with a good friend. So true of a good pipe band, regardless of experience level.

If you avoid pipe band practices – or anything – or anyone – for that matter … time to make a change. If it really is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Making good music with like-minded people is a very special thing.

One to be treasured – not avoided.



  1. I remember once when we had the Glengarry band and we were trying to go to a competition in the United States but we had only the minimum eight pipers at the time. At the end of the last practice before the competition the weakest player in the band announced that she couldn’t go the next day because she had to go “buy binders for school” as the new term was starting the Monday on the weekend the competition was on. That was it, there was no dissuading her, and the whole trip was cancelled. I think we lost $1000 on the bus booking.

    Comment by colinmaclellan — December 16, 2010 #

  2. Nicely said. I’ve been in bands for some time now—from very bad ones, to very good ones—and what you say has been true of them all. I love band practice, even the bad ones.

    Comment by iainmacd — December 17, 2010 #

  3. Well said. I have a similar problem in my own band which has resulted in talks to the band about how we are not a “drop-in” pipe band, and a few sit-downs with members who have lists of excuses for missing practice as long as my arm, then appear at band engagements playing (badly) the Blue Cloud and Itchy Fingers while warming up, but unable to play band music.

    I wonder if, in the context you mention it, it’s more of this “join the winning team” attitude. Let the rest of the band do the slogging through the fall and winter of picking music and bashing through it, discussing and improving it, and appear as if by magic in the Spring when they’re sure they aren’t going to another band and they approve of what everyone else has done over the winter.

    Comment by Jim Dubhlas — December 17, 2010 #

  4. Thanks for comments guys. Colin: “to buy binders”! That is truly outstanding. I like the “need to babysit my kids”, suggesting that looking after kids is some sort of special, outside the norm sort of thing.

    We could have fun making a list of most memorable excuses for missing band practice.

    Jim – I think a lot of missing practices comes down to one, simple, very human trait: laziness.


    Comment by Michael Grey — December 17, 2010 #

  5. I often wondered over the years, while at those band practices when little or few show up, why am I here? The simple answer is that I really enjoy it and look forward to going every week.

    I think that for some in the pipe band scene, the hanging out with bandmates and practicing bit is not the fun bit at all. That’s a chore that is unfortunately required if you are going to be involved in the trips, competitions, etc with the band. I guess it’s like being a fly-in player that lives locally. I’ll admit, it can technically be done but you have to ask yourself, why would you want to do that?

    I’m not sure what the right solution is. If you dread going to band practices, you shouldn’t be involved. If the day of the week your band practices is truly an issue then change the day the band practices? I’ve often thought that a Sunday practices kills my weekend. Why not practice on Thursday/Friday night after work?

    There must be some strange mystic power that makes some people want to be part of a pipe band when in fact some really don’t like being there……maybe those people just like wearing kilts? 😉

    Comment by ChrisConnolly — December 17, 2010 #

  6. Chris – good comments. It may be a “mystic power” (a nice thought) or it could just be habit or a rut (“I’ve always been a member of a band”) that some people find themselves in.


    Comment by Michael Grey — December 18, 2010 #

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