Offline online

My decision to make the Piper & Drummer online-only came about after years of careful consideration. It was an unusual situation to be in: the print P&D was a great success and people kept telling me that it was the benchmark of  piping/drumming paper publications. P&D Online had become incredibly successful. Since the last major re-modeling of the site, its role was to provide news, while the print was to provide longer features.

My decision to go all-online is supported by lots of data that shows that the future or print is in some peril. There will always be room and demand for lovely, glossy weekend magazines that are all about experience. These generally will have circulations of more than 1 million. While the print P&D is clearly a nice experience, the cost of producing it, and the advertising and subscription charges needed to make it viable were getting out of whack. Developing a top-notch news website is also expensive, but it’s more or less a one-time charge. Publishing with it is basically free.

The new Piper & Drummer website will continue to be not-for-profit. That is, new revenues from whatever paid subscriptions come in, and advertising revenues, will be plowed back into the either the site or new piping/drumming projects. We’ll continue to sponsor other events and causes as we can and as they make sense. I hope that readers and advertisers will like the idea that their money is going to good causes to support their passion.

The fact that the P&D will no longer be connected in any shape to an organization is an important factor, too. Because the P&D magazine went to all PPBSO members, there was some confusion about the brand. Some thought that the completely independent website was also connected, and communicating that it was not was always difficult. Now, it should be absolutely clear that the P&D is independent. Unlike every other piping/drumming publication that I know of, we’re not connected with any organization, we’re not selling anything, and we can report on everything. Content on the site can continue and will continue to be completely objective.

The feedback that I have received and read regarding the move to all-online has been mainly of the “hate to see the print go, but it makes perfect sense and good luck” variety. Those most disappointed with the loss of the print edition seem to be older than 40-60 (my own age bracket), and you can understand why. They are not of the generation that grew up with the Internet, which, to many of those 40-plus folks, is still a mysterious newfangled gizmo.

The new P&D is an adventure. I’m never one to shy away from change, and the P&D, in many ways, has always encouraged and welcomed and called for change in piping/drumming. I’ll miss the old girl, but the future is bright and I’m looking forward to experiencing it with you.



I was at a small competition awhile ago and there were maybe four bands in the Grade 4 event. All of the bands played well and did their best, for sure, but the one that won the contest was streets ahead.

So many times I’ve spoken with prominent judges who have returned from a far-off judging trip, reporting back with effusive praise about such-and-such a band being in top-form at a small contest, and how they are sure to crack the top six at the World’s. Then the World’s comes and that band doesn’t even make the final. I’ve learned to take reports like these with a dose of sodium.

Context can be a funny thing when it comes to subjective competitions like ours. The competitive standard of any pipe band grade is wide-ranging. In any category, the quality range between the best bands and the worst bands is big. When only a few bands are in a contest, the one that plays substantially better than the rest can seem like a world-beater, even though they may only be excellent in the context of that specific contest.

It’s difficult to maintain a mental image of a musical “standard” for a grade. Our perception of quality is made up of so many things. A decent Grade 2 band playing on the day among Grade 3 and Grade 4 bands can seem like FMM incarnate.

It’s amazing to me how bands that function without any other bands in their grade for many hundreds or even thousands of miles can turn up at the World’s and do well. I’m thinking of bands like SFU, Alberta Caledonia, and the 78th Highlanders (Halifax). The greatest example was the Victoria Police in the 1990s. Not only did they have basically no other Grade 1 bands in Australia back then, but they competed at the World’s – and won the damn thing – in their off-season. Uncanny.

I think that the good Grade 4 band that I heard recently will do well when they compete at the World’s in August. I’ll be interested to hear how they ultimately do, and wonder if my mental image of a good standard was accurate.