RSPBA asks bands for 2021 fees as uncertainty continues for pipe band world

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Perth & District Pipe Band about to compete at the British Pipe Band Championships in 2016.
Perth & District Pipe Band about to compete at the British Pipe Band Championships in 2016.
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With no pipe band competitions able to take place this year and next year looking questionable, the RSPBA has nevertheless contacted pipe band secretaries to ask for 2021 registration fees to be paid.

In a letter emailed to band secretaries on October 12, the RSPBA said: “There is no doubt that this has been a difficult year for many if not all of us, and it looks like it’s not over yet. The loss of our five Major Championships clearly had a major effect on the financial position of the Association, however we have managed to keep going by attracting some funding and by tightly managing our costs, including placing our HQ staff on furlough since 1st April.

“At this point in time, we are still hopeful of a season of some sort next year, but at present we do not yet know what that will look like. However, as in previous years, we need to start preparing now for the coming season. We have already had discussions with some of our current promoters and are arranging to speak to the remainder shortly. They too have their challenges as it is likely that there will still be restrictions in place for mass gatherings next year, as well as a number of specific and detailed guidelines that will need to be followed.

“…Throughout the period from 1st April, we still needed to meet the general overheads and running costs, as well as the balance of staff costs which fell outside the furlough scheme, and from 1st November, we will see these costs increase further.

Perth & District Pipe Band about to compete at the British Pipe Band Championships in 2016.
Perth & District Pipe Band about to compete at the 2016 British Pipe Band Championships held in Paisley, Scotland.

“… We hope that you understand the need to support your Association through the payment of these registration fees in order that we can continue to function as an organisation, support and administer the membership of the bands and our volunteers, and prepare to run the five Major Championships in 2021 and beyond.”

The Band Registration Fees for 2021 have been maintained at 2020 levels if paid before November 30 (Saint Andrew’s Day):

• UK Novice Band – £190 +VAT
• UK Adult Band – £210 + VAT
• Non-UK Novice Band – £95.00*
• Non-UK Adult Band – £105.00*

Bands not based in the UK must pay these fees if they wish to compete at an RSPBA competition, even though they must also be members of their affiliated Association.

The RSPBA has experienced well documented financial issues in the last couple of years as a result of its £1million+ renovation of its Glasgow headquarters.

Meanwhile the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continuing to impact most of the piping and pipe band world (with the exception of Australasia). In Scotland, outgoing RSPBA Chief Executive, Ian Embelton told Bagpipe.News that the organisation recently received correspondence from Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Fair Work and Culture saying that the Government recognises that amateur music organisations such as pipe bands, and the individuals who work with them, are an essential part of the fabric of Scotland’s culture and communities and promote an international reputation and that it, the Government, is determined that we will be able to thrive again.

Ian Embelton.

Mr Embelton said the Scottish Government has “advised that details of reopening and restarting of different sectors will continue to be guided by the route map and will be announced in due course. Sector-led guidance for the Performing Arts and Venues in Scotland will be overarching in nature; as each organisation or workplace is different, it is for individual organisations and practitioners to work with all involved to determine how best to apply any guidance in their particular circumstances.

“Because of the particular concerns relating to aerosol transmission, a cautious approach to the playing of wind and brass instruments, including bagpipes, is required and confirm that this will be reflected in the guidance. They have also confirmed that research into this transmission risk is ongoing and will continue to inform decisions and guidance.

“However, in light of the increasing instances of the pandemic across the country recently, we feel we may need to wait a little longer before we see any further relaxation of restrictions.”

Around Europe, many pipe bands continue to hold regular online chanter/pad practices but none have been able to participate in their usual round of fund-raising events. Conversely, from other enquiries some pipe bands haven’t met at all online since the summer. The mixed picture around the world remains very similar. Chirene Campbell, Secretary of Pipe Bands Association of South Africa (PBASA) told us that South Africa recently moved to what it termed a “Level One lockdown” which has further eased restrictions in the country. She said: “In terms of hosting events this means that indoor event venues can host up to 50% of the venue’s capacity as long as that number does not exceed 250 people while external event venues can’t exceed 500 people.

“We have been in touch with the majority of our South African bands and most are not holding active practices. Some bands have opted to host one on one or group online band sessions, one or two meet on occasion in person and some are not practicing at all.

South Africa’s Benoni Pipe Band competing in 2009.

“We are however hopeful that in the coming months and with more band members becoming comfortable to do so, that our community will start holding regular in-person practices again with the intention of hosting our first competition no earlier than April next year.”

The picture in the USA is similar although a shade more complicated. Scott McCawley, Vice President of the Midwest Pipe Band Association (MWPBA), pictured, told us that a key issue there is the differentiation between US federal government guidelines and then state and local guidelines. Scott said: “Some states are more open; others, less so. Illinois, especially the greater Chicago land area, has a higher concentration of member pipe bands than many other states. Larger metropolitan areas in other states have a number of pipe bands as well. While the MWPBAs jurisdiction area comprises 14 states, only 10 have registered bands and four of those only have one. As you might assume, the states with no or fewer bands are more rural and have fewer state and local restrictions. The more metropolitan, the more restrictions.

“I don’t think that pipe bands are on the governmental radar, so to speak. I don’t believe that other musical bands are practicing either, or if they are practicing, are following strict protocols.

“The issue that we face is not bands wanting to get together. Many are trying to be creative via videoconferencing, but that has its limitations. Because so many bands depend upon other entities for practice space – church halls, service clubs, municipal halls, etc. – they have been effectively shut out from practice because those entities are required to limit access, usually to their own members. There are sanitising protocols in place for public spaces of this nature, and most have necessarily placed limitations on unnecessary outsiders using facilities.

“We have scheduled an event for May 1, 2021, an indoor solo competition at a local church. We are hopeful that by that time, the situation will permit the event. As you may know, the largest indoor piping and drumming event within the MWPBA area, Winter Storm, has cancelled for 2021.”