History of Pipe Bands and Competition

Pipe Bands

Bagpipe and Drum bands were initially a creation of the Scottish Regiments in the British Army. Each regiment initially had several drummers, the title given to those who played drums as well as those who played either a bugle or a fife. The role assigned to the drummers was to sound various regimental duty calls and to play regimental music. Several of the regiments have published collections of bagpipe music where the various regimental call tunes can be found. Pipers were added to the “drums” in various regiments at the urging of their officers and the cost of having pipers was initially the responsibility of the officers.
Bagpipes became an increasingly important part of regimental life with the passage of time and efforts were made to standardize the way bagpipe music was played so that bands from different regiments could play together when necessary or appropriate. These efforts led to the publication of two books of bagpipe music in the mid 1930’s (The Army Manuals) that contained both bagpipe music and accompanying drum music. A school of piping was also established, located at Edinburgh Castle, whose purpose was to raise the level of musical competence of military pipers and to train soldiers to direct regimental pipe bands.
Bagpipe band competitions also appear to have initially developed in the British Army. There are records of contests within and between regiments. In addition, when championship pipe band competitions were established, the records indicate that the winners were often military pipe bands. Civilian pipe bands grew in popularity as military pipers left the service but continued to maintain their interest in playing and in playing well. This was particularly true following World War II. Police Departments and collieries often supported the development of these civilian bands, some of which still exist today and compete at the highest levels, for example Shotts and Dykehead Caledonian Pipe Band and some of Police Service Scotland and Canadian Police pipe bands.

Pipe Band Competitions

When pipe bands compete against each other, they are evaluated in terms of the nature and quality of their piping, the nature and quality of their drumming and in terms of ensemble criteria where how well and how musically the pipe and drum sections of the band play together to create a musical package is assessed.
The bagpipe section is judged on the nature and quality of the sound that they produce, the consistency of sound over the entire performance, playing technique, expression, execution and how well they play in unison.. The drum section is judged on similar criteria. The ensemble judge focuses on how well the overall performance fits together, how well the drum settings support and enhance the pipe music, the steadiness of tempos, how well the different pieces of music that make up the performance fit together and the quality of transitions between tunes and time signatures.

Massed Pipe Bands

The pomp and ceremony so often required in the British Army led to combining military bands (both bagpipe and regimental brass bands) as well as to combining the pipe bands of the several batallion’s of a specific regiment together on various occasions. This was continued in the competitive civilian pipe band world for the purposes of drawing and entertaining crowds as well as having all of the bands in one place so that prizes could be awarded. The massed bands ceremonies also provided an opportunity for people who enjoy bagpipe music to hear music with which they were familiar, as bands often played music specifically developed for competitions during their competitve performances.