SPA contest from 1969

John MacFadyen.

We received a query from a reader asking about the 1969 Scottish Pipers’ Association (SPA) competition. The contest that year was notable as a new system of judging was tried out, one that saw five judges – Pipe Majors Donald MacLeod, Peter Bain and Hector MacLean, Lieut. John MacLellan and Mr Alfred Morrison – sit at separate tables and at the end of each performance rate the performance by holding up a mark.

The top and bottom marks were to be ignored and the other three averaged to arrive at a result.

The man behind the idea was the late John MacFadyen who was SPA President at the time. He was quoted in the Oban Times: “Although the system has not previously been tried in piping, a similar method of adjudication has been employed successfully in other aesthetic spheres familiar to most of us after the recent Olympic Games. So there seems no reason to suppose that it should not work for us.

“By trying out this system of judging we are merely attempting to get an order of merit in as unbiased a way as possible.

“We hope the competing pipers will support the experiment and that many non-competitors will be sufficiently interested to come along and see it in action.”

The front cover of the programme. Click to enlarge.

The competition took place in the Woodside Halls, Glasgow on February 1 that year.

We checked our archives and found that the competition was reported (including the scores) in the following month’s 1969 Piping Times. In his editorial comment, Seumas MacNeill declared the idea to be an “outstanding success” and one that was welcomed by what he termed the “most important and hitherto neglected section at a competition”, the audience. There were less complaints about the results, probably due to the fact that now the audience knew in considerable detail just how the final result was arrived at.

Seumas wrote:

“The size of the audience reflected the value of this experiment. It would appear that large numbers can be attracted to listen to piping when they are no longer treated as children who can’t be told the facts of piping life.

“A big round of congratulations is in order to the SPA for having the courage to break away from tradition, and a special thanks should be expressed to the competitors who risked all to make the experiment possible. Many well-known players did not take part, but it is to be hoped that they will come forward in large numbers next time.

“The biggest thanks however are due to the five judges, who had the bravery literally to stand up and be counted. Without men displaying such courage this milestone in the history of piping competitions could never have been reached.”

Although considered a success, the format was never repeated.

The relevant pages from the March 1969 Piping Times pages which included John MacFadyen’s report and the judges’ scores are reproduced below. Click on them to enlarge.

The SPA is now in its centenary year and in the midst of its latest Knockout series for the Piping Times Trophy. The semi-finals for this event will take place on 8th February and 7th March, with the Final taking place on the 2nd May 2020. All SPA events are held at The National Piping Centre Otago Street.