Unbottled



Okay, so the Cardinals won in five. Sweet victory for anyone waiting and hoping since 1982, who suffered through the 1970s, Steve Swisher, Vern Rapp, Gary Templeton, Don Denkinger, and all of the post-season let-downs of the last decade.

Sorry Stu, Steve, Joel et al. Your Tigers just ran out of gas and “lost the bottle,” as they say. It was like the hot new Grade 1 band at the World’s dropping sticks, missing attacks, chanters falling out, pipe bags and heads bursting. Chalk it up to lack of experience, but know that Detroit will be good and better for many years.

Leyland taking the full blame is extraordinary: a pipe-major has to assume that pipers will properly hemp their instrument and play on auto-pilot when they hit the field. Not a dang thing he can do if they don’t execute like they have been trained and know how to.

“Bottle” is something that cannot be taught, but can only be learned through experience. But Cardinals fans’ bottles have been corked up for decades, and how sweet the champagne rain was early this morning.

Making the grade

The news of the RSPBA upgrades was more interesting than usual because the organization took it upon itself once again to grade four bands that aren’t members of the RSPBA. It’s especially interesting given that the RSPBA agreed not to grade ANAPBA bands, and to respect the recommendations of their home associations.

The agreement stems back to 2001, when the RSPBA informed the Prince Charles band that it would have to compete in Grade 2, not Grade 1, two weeks before the World’s. Prince Charles had been upgraded by its home association, entered Grade 1 at the World’s, and then was relegated months after the band had submitted its entry.

What if the tables were turned? Let’s say an RSPBA member Grade 1 band travels to North America – something that happens once every 20 years of so. The band competes at the biggest pipe band contest in North America. Let’s say the band, which let’s also say is a recent World Champion, has a few poor runs on the day because they couldn’t handle the heat. The band finishes last in one event and second-last in the other.

That winter, the Music Board of the association that sanctions the event recommends, based solely on the band’s performances at that contest, that the band should be downgraded, and the organization’s Executive then approves the re-grading, insinuating that the band should now be Grade 2.

Imagine the upset.

But it would never happen. First of all, it’s not right. Second, the guest band is a guest; it is a member of the RSPBA, and it competes in the grade assigned to it by its home organization. Grading should be done only by a band’s home association.

Why the RSPBA has taken it upon itself once again to interfere in the grading processes of other associations is a mystery. If RMM or the Gaelic College, for example, were not upgraded by the BCPA or the ACPBA, and those bands entered an RSPBA contest in their 2006 grade, then one would hope that the RSPBA would raise its concerns with those bands’ home associations, and work towards a resolution – respectful of the decision-making capabilities and high standards of others.

Credible accreditation

Last Friday I went through a full day of written and oral examinations for the Canadian Public Relations Society’s Accredited Public Relations (APR) program, a lengthy and exhaustive standardized test for the profession in which I’ve worked for 15 years. It was a terrific learning experience, and, inevitably, I connected it back to my alter-world of piping and drumming.

Public relations is not an exact science. Some would call it an art. The challenge of creating an accreditation program for PR professionals is actually similar to the examination processes that I’ve seen and been through, and now help to develop and uphold, for judging solo piping and bands. Piping and drumming are musical arts. We constantly struggle to measure them in competition. And we constantly struggle trying to create standards and certifications for adjudicators, so that competitors can be sure that they’re being assessed by those who not only have played to high-competency, but understand the theoretical and fundamental aspects of the art, and are able to communicate their judgment in writing.

In piping and drumming, even those with little playing ability somehow end up judging in unregulated regions. Even after all these years, Scotland’s solo scene is rife with jokers on benches. In PR, anyone can hang out a shingle and declare themselves “professional.” It’s a primary reason why many piping contests and the PR industry overall suffer from credibility problems.

In the PR industry, relatively few practitioners actually go through the APR process. Often it is considered unnecessary by those who are already successful in the business. There is a tendency by some to be suspicious of trying to put an inexact science into a pass/fail test, assessed by those who may well not have near the breadth of professional experience and success of many of those taking the exams.

The world piping and drumming community is full of great competitors who are unwilling to go through judging exams. At any RSPBA major, the audience is dotted with former world champion pipe-majors, leading-drummers, pipe-sergeants and long-serving members of top Grade 1 bands. Sometimes they just don’t want to judge, but many out of principle refuse to adhere to certification standards. It’s a shame that they don’t understand that such a process is not intended to bring their experience into question, but is designed to create credibility through standards – something that every discipline needs if it wants to be taken seriously.

Despite my 15 years in the PR business, working with one of the country’s most successful firms and having a few dozen industry awards to my name, I may well not pass the APR accreditation exam. Regardless, I accept and understand the value of accreditation to uphold a standard for a profession that is inherently inexact and unregulated. But if I pass, those to whom I provide counsel have more assurance that I actually know what I’m talking about. It will help to differentiate me from the jokers.

When it comes to certification for solo and band judging, I wish more potential piping and drumming and ensemble adjudicators felt the same way.