How to Build a Pipe Band
I received an email last night that was a bit disturbing. A very good friend wanted to know if I knew anybody that wanted his band’s uniforms and other gear. It seems that membership is down and they don’t know how they’re going to continue.
I’m pretty passionate about this topic. I’ve been involved in a number of pipe bands over the years. I’ve build a couple from scratch and I’ve guided a few out of troubled waters. I’ll mention Niagara Police, Braemar, and SJNMA pipe bands here. At the height of its success, Braemar boasted 100 members, three competing bands, and won two North American Championships. And this was all accomplished in about four years. What made Braemar special? The short answer is “the people” made Braemar special. The long answer is…much longer.
Braemar’s mission was threefold….
Locally based – The base of pipers and drummers within the Niagara Region had diminished over the years. Our top competing bands (Clan MacFarlane and later Niagara Regional Police) had both become dependent on talented individuals driving hours to attend practice and events. We felt that in order to become sustainable, we needed to tap into the local market and grow our own talent.
Multi-dimensional – We wanted to create a place for everyone. We wanted to include people rather than exclude them. The organization welcomed beginners and accomplished players alike. It also embraced those of varying levels of proficiency. We hoped to retain the talent that we developed and ultimately have bands in every grade.
Fully integrated – Although we had bands competing in different grades, there were tunes that were common throughout the organization and we played as a “big band” as often as possible. This helped to create an atmosphere that allowed everyone to focus on “the greater good”.
The bottom line is that the vision and goals have to be realistic. If you’re building a band in Montana and your goal is to challenge FMM for the World Title in three years, this might not be all that realistic. On the other hand, if your vision is to create a sustainable organization that is happy and healthy and your goal is to compete in Grade 5 someday, you probably have a better chance of attaining that goal. As with any organization, people at all levels have to buy into the vision. Once everyone is on board, it then comes down to execution.
The majority rarely gets it right! This is fact! One of the factors that helped Braemar grow quickly was that decisions were made by an appointed Board of Directors. The Board was comprised of people who were experienced in pipe band matters and who understood and embraced the vision. I do think a constitution is good however at times it can be a rocky road. Ultimately people always vote with their feet. If they like what they experience, they stay. Otherwise they leave without hesitation, with or without a constitution.
Rules of conduct
Execute…Say what you mean and mean what you say! It’s really that simple. We had a vision. We watched our progress and made adjustments to stay on track!
Communication…In any organization good communication is critical. It’s pretty hard to misconstrue something if it’s put in writing and if EVERYBODY gets the same message.
Nay-Sayers and Brick-Throwers…There will be those who are critical and negative. There will be those who stand on the sidelines and lob bricks at every opportunity. Distance yourself from these people and their poison.
Ego…No one is above the greater good of the band. Not the PM. Not the President. Not the most talented player. Do not tolerate those with inflated egos. The overall environment should be one of continuous improvement, where people feel welcome and appreciated regardless of their ability or circumstances. Encourage them to go elsewhere.
Whatever you do, don’t waver from the vision. If your vision and goals are well-thought-out then only the most dramatic of circumstances should cause you to revisit them. Remember, it’s easy to criticize something and easy to break something. It’s a whole lot harder to build or to improve something. Don’t tolerate back-biting. Trust your judgement and accept the counsel of those closest to you. If they’re true friends and backers, they’ll let you know when you screw up. If there are those who disagree, hear them out. Then either get them onside or let them go. Whatever you do, don’t let them contaminate others.
Have fun and celebrate…This is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? When things come together don’t forget to take time to celebrate and to congratulate your band mates. And yes, this is hard work. In many instances it’s the hardest thing you’ll do in this lifetime.
All pipe bands are fragile, even at the best of times. As I said earlier people vote with their feet. Players move on when they aren’t happy. This is a hobby, but it’s a very serious hobby where we all dedicate a lot of time and money. It’s much easier to keep a band healthy than to rebuild a band. It’s also much easier to walk away than to fix something that’s not right. It’s a saw that can cut both ways. Look to those leaders with the greatest amount of experience and the best minds. Look for the qualities that you admire most and then support that person.
Thank you and best wishes. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
- …realize that it’s not about them! They leave their egos at home.
- …don’t need to take credit. They praise others.
- …develop people at all levels, always.
- …listen to others and treat everyone with respect.
- …don’t argue…they reason.
- …seek opportunities to congratulate rather than to criticize.
- …hold true to their word.
- …build at every opportunity.
- …see the big picture.
- …are fair to everyone.