Keep the Flags at Home

August 15, 2011 on 3:39 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Solo Piping, Tips | 6 Comments

The big day has come and gone. The 2011 World Pipe Band Championships will surely stand as the best ever. What fantastic virtuoso performances and delivered, too, by bands across a hugely wide breadth of the contest. Every band seemed to play varying degrees of great.

Apparently 16 “nations” participated this year, at least that’s what was publicized. I know it’s a “world’s” event but I always hate nationalism hauled in to anything to do with bagpipes. The “World’s” is a big event for us, especially in the context of pipe bands, but our world is small and our music leans to fragile. I’m not sure thinking of pipe bands or bagpipe music in nationalistic terms is awfully helpful. Einstein called nationalism “the measles of mankind“. The last thing the Great Highland Bagpipe needs is a case of measles.

I was at Glasgow Green on Saturday and came across a fellow who played in a band from the west coast of the U.S. He thought Saturday was a great day for pipe bands in the U.S. I suggested to him that it was just a great day for pipe bands. Period. Yeah, good for the bands to do well and play well and without doubt high performance helps local scenes, for sure. But flag waving isn’t necessary.

Around 30,000 people turned up at Glasgow Green and I have a pretty good idea that most of those folks were mums, dads and very-good and loyal friends. The casual pipe band-loving ticket-buying fan was pretty thin on the ground.

When we’re in Glasgow, the centre of the piping world and crowds are modest for a major gathering of Scotland’s music, we’re reminded, I think, that things related to the Great Highland Bagpipe are delicate. It seems to me, too, that serious enthusiasts of piping and pipe bands have way more in common with each other than with many of their own countrymen.

Anyway, waving maple leafs, stars and stripes and the Gwenn-ha-du just doesn’t help move the music forward.

Better to do what we can to continue to support each other without thinking so much about passport details.



  1. What timely thoughts. I was just out of Glasgow Queen Street Station on Sunday afternoon on the way to Mallaig, thinking I would be away from pipers and drummers for at least a little bit, when I was met on the train by Donald Lindsay, the American piper who started gloating about how bands from the USA “beat” bands from Canada, or Ontario, as I guess he meant. I suppose he wanted me to feel bad or something. I couldn’t care less where a band is from. Besides, most bands today (in Grade 1, anyway) are made up of a United Nations of players. It ain’t the Olympics.

    Comment by aberthoff — August 15, 2011 #

  2. You can say that again.

    Comment by Michael Grey — August 16, 2011 #

  3. You make a fair point, but if I may, if we’re going to point out at any time that only X number of the top six are from Scotland—somehow alluding to the diminishing dominance of Scottish piping—you recognizes the unspoken “non-Scotland” handicap that bands from other countries have overcome to reach that point. I’m sure both of you can remember a time when the total number of US bands at the Worlds was zero. American pipe bands have had a fairly large stone to roll uphill, it also being in the shadow of our northern neighbors and all. The US has only had bands at the top level of competition for a little more than a decade, so this thrill is all still a bit new. Canadian pipe bands have been distinguishing themselves with successful appearances at the Worlds for quite a long time. This year, with a critical mass of American pipe bands not only making the trip, but faring well, there is a sense of achievement that is worth celebrating for as long as it lasts. (But without the flags, I’ll agree that was a bit much.) When it is all “old glen” to us here in the USA, to be playing the Worlds and scoring well on a regular basis, then I guess we can join you in commentary about “national pride” and such about, oh, the next “non-Scotland” country to unexpectedly field quality pipe bands.

    Comment by Vince — August 17, 2011 #

  4. Vince – yes, my example was Amercian but it could’ve been any nationality: Irish, France/Bretagne, Germany, wherever. I saw Canadian flags waved from the stands and huge Breton flags amongst the side-rope crowds. I’m all for celebrating great performances; again, sans nationalist emotion. And as for “non-Scottish” handicap? Dunno. You ask Scots bands and many might say that if they’re not from Glasgow they have a handicap, if they’re not from Ayr they have a handicap, yadda, yadda, etc.

    Comment by Michael Grey — August 17, 2011 #

  5. I understand the pride in the achievement of placing at the Worlds, and I am old enough to remember the Canadian flags in evidence in the 80s when the 78ths and SFU were first into the prizes. It’s a huge achievement, but we didn’t see ScottishPower or Inveraray waving the Saltire, and I was a little taken aback when I saw the flags unfurl in the massed bands. Really? I’ve heard it said that the RSPBA should promote the national flags, and march bands in by country to drive the public appeal of the event…but I like thinking of us all as one “country” of musicians.

    Comment by iainmacd — August 22, 2011 #

  6. well said, Iain. M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — August 25, 2011 #

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