Monday, December 30, 2013

On to the Next 20

The CRPB started in Fall 1992, and1993 was our first season of performance and competition. So, we've been marking the 20 years for the past two seasons, first with a trip to Scotland in 2012, and this past year with the usual performances and competitions. But generally, for those of us who have been around the band for a long time, there has been a lot to think about.

The 2013 year held some great times and good performances for the band, and while we struggled with consistency due to the dispersed nature of the membership, we had some good plays and made some overall improvements in the way we did things. Large credit is due to L-D Roland Reid, who retired at the end of the season. Rolly's  calm and intelligent approach to band and music—and especially to people—made us a better band, and we're going to miss him.

The Saskatchewan Highland Gathering and Celtic Festival was a great event for the band, largely in that it allowed us to see exactly where the deficiencies lay, and give us a roadmap for the summer. The months fly past too quickly when you rely on "band weekends," and yet we got lots of good playing done with smaller groups. Some of the Sunday morning practices in Wascana Park were just highly enjoyable playing in a great location.

For the 20th year running, the band performed for the Royal Canadian Legion's Decoration Day (June) and Remembrance Day (November). These are key events for the band, and ones that we take very seriously. A recent addition to this is band support for the University of Regina convocations (June and October), which help the Conservatory Pipe Band.

And on that note, CRPB band members stepped up to assist with all manner of teaching and support for the Conservatory Pipe Band. Regular instructors in 2013 included Barb MacDonald, Alex Rasmussen, Brett Stinson, Morgan Brady, Willie Currams, Kenna Whelan and Brenna Smith. Along the way, we had lots of help from other band members playing for drummers, helping with gigs, tuning, etc. This is a critically important thing the band does, and one that we need to do better as the years go on.

The trip to Ottawa and Maxville Games in late July/early August was a summer highlight: days together practising, laughing, plotting and then competing. While the results (5th) were a little disappointing, there were some major improvements made, and the band came away feeling that we were travelling in the right direction. The Maxville beer tent was a bit of a highlight also. I believe one band member jumped for the first time in 10 years. Amazing.

The surprise gig of the year would be the band's performance of "Mull of Kintyre" with Sir Paul McCartney at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. Nothing like playing in front of 44,000 people in your own city, and the media swirl lasted for days after. There were some nice side stories to this, an example being the Ottawa Police Pipe Band loaning us a set of chanters that would handle A=446, and perhaps the fact that we used an old R.G. Hardie pipe chanter from the 1960s as the main instrument. The Hardie chanter belonged to long-time Regina piper Don Felstrom, who died earlier in the year, shortly after leaving me with a box of chanters and parts that he wanted out of his house. I thought of him that night.

For the first time in a few years, the band ventured back to Calgary Highland Games and then Canmore Highland Games on Sept long weekend. The band had not played medley or MSR since Maxville, so it was a bit of a gamble, but fun was had, despite a horrendous hotel mixup in Canmore. We were 2nd to a very nice sounding Edmonton & District Pipe Band at Calgary, and snuck past them on ensemble preference for the win at Canmore.

After a month off, we started gathering in October, and found that we have a larger local band than we've had in years, and Willie Currams took over from Rolly as L-D to give us a strong local flavour. An early highlight has been the number of people at band most weeks, and that fact that we have pretty strong numbers heading into 2014.

So there it is: a wrap on 20+ years, and a pretty positive spot for the band. It's been an amazing time, all of it, and marked by many people in and around the band who have done their part to make it all work. A quick scan of the news stories on pipes | drums gives you the sense that Grade 2 bands are tough to keep on the road, hard on the members, and fragile overall. Keeping the CRPB active, healthy and playing for all these years has not been easy, and I think there are two things that the band in general needs to plan:

1. Ongoing recruiting, teaching and organizing of kids to play in the Conservatory Pipe Band, so that the local talent pool continues to grow.
2. The next generation of band leadership needs to get ready to take on the Grade 2 band challenge, and to plan it's strength for years into the future.

The more people who write themselves into the plans, and take an active role in developing piping and pipe bands, the more chance there is of the band seeing out the next 20 years with the same success as the first 20.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Some Photos Are Worth 1000 Words

Sylvia & Vince
Last Sunday we had the opportunity to host a wee concert with stellar Antigonish fiddler Troy MacGillivray and Louis-Charles Vigneau, a francophone singer/guitar virtuoso also from the Maritimes. So, we put up the posters, sent emails to our band and MWCF mailing list, and we got enough people out to make a nice Sunday afternoon concert of excellent music in our regular practice space.

Barbara took this photo, and while she was primarily getting a nice shot of Sylvia and Vincent Aitken in the front, it also captured quite a bit in the background. I likely first met Sylvia and Vince in the late 1970s, when I was the P-M of the Fraser Pipe Band in Regina. Their son Jamie was a snare drummer in the band, and daughter Ramona later learned the pipes. Vince and Sylvia were always cheerful, practical, hard-working band parents, and over the years took on many roles with the Fraser Pipe Band. Eventually, their kids moved on from pipe bands, but not Vince and Sylvia. They continued to go on trips to Scotland with the Fraser band, and when the City of Regina Pipe Band started in 1992, they also attended our events regularly. Over the years, they have supported our every ceilidh, concert and social, and are always in the background when the band plays at a pub, has a send-off, or a public performance. Last summer, they came to Scotland with the band, and in 2010, they were there cheering us on at every turn. These are really fine people, who love pipe bands, piping and everything Scottish, and whose long-term enthusiasm has really made a difference to the pipe band. We love to see them out, and it's always more fun when they are there.

Framed right between Sylvia and Vince is Melita Clemence, who raised a family of six, and who had all six in the pipe band! Melita is another long-term contributor to Scots/Irish culture in the city. She supports everything the pipe bands do, and she has donated many beautiful handmade items for silent auctions, and she is always there with a cheerful laugh about the latest happening.  She kept all six kids busy in pipe bands, and to this day daughters Pat (half-hidden behind Sylvia) and Arlene are both members of the CRPB, and their kids have all been members of the Conservatory Pipe Band and the CRPB, and they have all volunteered, donated and been the backbone of many initiatives for pipe bands and also Irish dancing in Regina.

Way in the back of this photo is Brett Stinson, who came to the band aged 20 or so, and who has been an excellent band member, Lead Drummer and drum instructor for the band all these years. His dedication to working with kids in the Conservatory band has been amazing, and the results of his efforts have at times made up the bulk of both bands.

And last, at the right of the photo is drummer Will Currums. Willie moved to Saskatchewan from Ireland last summer, and is anxiously waiting for his family to join him this spring. Willie has been an absolute gift to the pipe band, and also to the country. It's always great when a new band member moves to the area, and it's been amazing to have someone locally with Willie's sheer passion for pipe bands and the music, and for living in general.

So there you have it. A little snapshot out of a band Sunday, with people who have been contributing to pipe bands for years, and without whom the pipe band world would be much poorer.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The End of (Another) Era

Royal Canadian Legion, Branch No. 1
When the City of Regina Pipe Band started out in 1992, we contacted the Legion to ask if they would let us practice there, and they happily agreed. Later that fall, I was approached by the Legion President, Murray Carpenter, and asked if we would consider acting as the Legion Pipe Band in return for use of the hall whenever we needed it, and maybe even some initial help with uniforms. So, we signed an agreement with the Legion, and for many years the fine old building was home for the band. Years of the Mid-Winter Ceilidh were in the the hall there, and Sunday band practice year-round, and later when we started a grade 4 teaching program, it was in the Legion on Wednesday nights. The Legion gave us a large storeroom at the side of it's large stage, and we kept drums, uniforms, CDs, banners, trophies and other things there. In the main hall downstairs, we had a glass display case where we kept trophies, certificates, photos, patches and hat badges we'd been given, and other band keepsakes.

For many years, the Legion was home for the band. We practiced there, socialized there, had fundraisers and ceilidhs, and also played a role in many Legion functions, being the primary band at their Remembrance Day Ceremonies, Decoration Day in June, Annual Dinners, fundraisers, Poppy Day, and so on.

The CRPB bar in the Legion. Master brewer Trewin partially covered.
Our P-Sgt for many years, Trewin Somers, was perhaps the most capable bartender ever in the Legion, and we made huge profits running events there during the "Celtic wave" after Riverdance. In those days, the Legion executive was always very open to the pipe band's use of the hall, and many people ended up inside the venerable old building for the MWCF, the Regina Highland Games—especially one memorable year when in snowed on Games day and we moved it all inside. It was the Legion's best day that year in the kitchen. We also had "knockout competitions" there, and mini gatherings, recitals, started an adult piping class, ran piping and dancing workshops, and more.

So, I was a bit sad this morning, going down to the Legion to collect that last of the band's stuff. The inside of the Legion is turned upside down, and everything is being marked and photographed as lots for auction. The Legion as we've know in closes it's doors at midnight tonight, and the Atlantic Auditorium had its last pipe tunes on November 11 this year.

CRPB performing on the Legion stage, 2001 MWCF.
Greeting me at the door was Invan (spelling likely phonetic) , the caretaker. He has been there for all these years, and always a great friend to the band. He smiled and looked the other way when we would lock the doors after the MWCF and stay until 3 and 4 am to finish the Guinness keg. Trewin would say, "It won't keep. We better empty it." Invan would laugh at the antics, and sometimes just go home and ask us to lock it ourselves.

As the Legion fell on hard times and was unable to sustain its building, the pipe band gradually found itself practicing other places, while still supplying the bands and pipers for Legion events.

Anyway, this is a bit of a muddy ramble about the Legion, but I did think of a lot of great times and people while I was in there this morning. Hard to think that it was 20 years ago, and the number of beers that have spilled on the floor since then. Not sure what the Legion will look like when half of it is torn away and the big halls are gone, but hopefully it will retain some of the character that has made it such a great first home for the band these past 20 years.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Thanks for the Memories: New Westminister Police Pipe Band
[UPDATE, October 9: Well, today I'm told that the band is not folding, but is taking a year off, and rumours of it's death were premature. So, please note that we can look forward to the NWPPB at some time in the future, and in the meantime, I think everything else I said holds true.]

 This morning's news on email and Facebook was that The New Westminister Police Pipe Band had decided to cease operations. This was not a real surprise, because we had heard for a couple of years that P-M Angus MacPherson was in transition to retiring from work, moving away from the Lower Mainland, and there was some uncertainty about the band's future.

New Westminister—and "Maple Ridge" before them—have been a solid fixture on the scene for many years, and P-M Angus has persevered through some thin years at times, to consistently produce a musical and great-sounding band. The photo above, taken in 2011, captures the joy of New West members and friends following their two-day sweep of the North American Championships in Maxville and the Montreal Highland Games. Of course, the band had also experienced success in Scotland, having won prizes at various Games, including the World's.

It's sad to see such a consistently good band stop the music, but also easy to understand why these things happen. Without the dogged determination and skills of Angus and a few key members, it might have ended years back. So here's a health to Angus MacPherson, and sincere thanks from our band for your years of hard work to build and maintain an excellent pipe band in one of the most competitive scenes in the world. You have given so much to the piping scene in British Columbia, and your musical and organizational impact will be felt for some time to come.

The City of Regina Pipe Band had a few connections with the band. Former members of the CRPB, including Bryde Whelan, Morgan Brady, Aaron Malcolm, Ann Gray, Ian Aastrom and Cam Dodson all were stalwart members of the band, and many others were piping friends and former bandmates from Barb's and my days in British Columbia. To the members of NWPPB: thanks for your music and fellowship at venues across North America and Scotland. We look forward to meeting you all in new situations.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Scotland Once More

What seemed like an impossibility several months ago is about to happen, once again—a CRPB trip to Scotland. The band will be competing at North Berwick Highland Games, at the World Championships and we are also playing at George Square [12 noon, Monday, August 6] and the National Piping Centre [2pm, Tuesday, August 7] as part of the Glasgow International Festival of Piping, Piping Live!.

This is the band's fourth trip to Scotland since 2005, and each time we have gone, there have been specific challenges faced to get there. This year was no different. Back in March we didn't have enough members committed to going, and it seemed like it was not going to happen. It has been one of those years when circumstances work against the band: sudden loss of key members, cancellation of regional games that we depend on to build the band, illness, pregnancy(!) and all kinds of other things.

Through it all, the band has been supported by several key members whose ongoing interest in the welfare of the band  and the band members works through issues to a happy solution. Key among those this season has been Lead Drummer Roland Reid, who took over fully [after acting in that capacity for months] in February, and who has patiently worked with the drum corps and the band to achieve common goals. Rolly's decision to stick with the band and develop the corps has resulted in the band going to Scotland, and his leadership and skills have attracted new players to the band.

Long-time member Stacy Durning won't be with us in Scotland this year, because she's staying home to have her first baby. We are all looking forward to the happy and safe arrival of the new addition to the band, and the whole band sends best wishes to Stacy and Ray. Despite knowing that she was "out" for Scotland, Stacy has continued to attend band, played right up to May, and has contributed hugely to the band through her management of the band's primary fundraising plan. A couple of weeks back, when we sent £14,000 to Scotland for the band's accommodations, it was largely as a result of Stacy's efforts.

The band has been very fortunate to attract and keep really good people over the years, and their steady work and interest have helped the group to maintain a viable band in an area where strong bands are not the norm. This year, we have added some players near and far who are bringing new energy and skills to the group, and we are all looking forward to that first big practice in Scotland, where all the tough challenges are behind, and all that's left is playing music and having fun for 10 days.

Thanks to all the band members, families and supporters who have made this summer possible.

Monday, May 21, 2012

May Long Weekend has been a big piping and pipe bands weekend on the prairies ever since I was a wee boy in the Fraser Pipe Band. In those days, it was always the "Moose Jaw International Band Festival," at which I played my first ever solo on the pipes ("The Duke of Roxburgh's Farewell to the Blackmount Forest" - 2nd prize), and in later years contests at Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, and since 1996, Regina. This weekend we had games in Moose Jaw on Saturday and Regina on Sunday, and beautiful days for the contests both days, with a decent entry of soloists and bands.

It was a good weekend of practice and performance for the CRPB, in which we finally got to test new equipment and new players in game conditions. Too bad the other regional Grade 2 band doesn't come to's always more fun to play against another band, and a shame they don't seem to see it that way also.

 When you play in a pipe band in this part of the world, and devote as much time and energy [and money] to it as we do, you sometimes question the wisdom of your choices. Is trying to maintain a Grade 2 band in this place really a worthwhile venture, and what are the benefits? I've always considered that apart from it being fun for me [selfish motivation], it's also fun for others, and an opportunity for local players to gain experience that might pay off in other places.

That experience paid off for long-time band member (and son) Ruaridh MacDonald this past weekend, when he played in his first Grade 1 competition with the Inveraray & District Pipe Band, which placed 3rd in the Scottish Pipe Band Championships on Saturday. That amazing opportunity is a direct result of the many weekends spent trying to cobble together and maintain a band in Grade 2, and give people opportunities to develop their skills, and see the wider world out there.

Meanwhile, in Moose Jaw and Regina, we competed without his sister Eilidh, who is now a member of the 78th Highlanders, Halifax, and who has also made the transition to Grade 1 from the CRPB. And, on the same day, son Duncan (8) competed for the first time on chanter, and was 2nd both days to another boy from a well-known pipe band family! All milestones for me, and all good reasons to put in the time.

Coming home at the end of the Sunday night ceilidh, I checked my messages, and there was a note from former band member Nils Michael, now a member of the Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band who pointed out that the BBC Scotland radio programme "Pipeline" played a track from the CRPB's 2001 release "One Scottish Evening" on this week's show. Listen here.

And finally, at the massed bands in Regina, the SPBA honoured two long-time pipers for their contributions to piping in Saskatchewan. P-M Don Felstrom  and P-M Don McDonald started their piping careers together in Saskatoon 66 years ago, and they have been playing, organizing, teaching and enjoying pipe bands ever since. In this photo, you can see them having a tune with the massed bands following the presentation.

This was another great milestone on the weekend, and maybe a sign that there is something to enjoying the time spent in the pursuit of a good tune. These gents are inspirational for us all.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

It Seems Like Just 20 Years Ago

This past weekend the CRPB kicked off it's 20th year of activity by hosting the 20th Annual Mid-Winter Ceilidh, which is now part of the Mid-Winter Celtic Festival. It was a great night once again, featuring fairly raw sets by the band, and a lot of great entertainment from Celtic bands and dancers.

Coming as it does on the first weekend of February, the Ceilidh always marks the first real performance for new band members, and the first outing for new music. We played the new-ish medley, and tried some new tunes that we've been working on this fall. The show provides a launching spot for things to come.

This being the 20th anniversary, we asked former band members in the crowd to come up and get a picture taken at the end of the band set. It's always good to see former members come out to support band events, and this brought to mind it might be an opportunity to say "thanks" to all those band members who have made the band successful and fun over so many years.

So, thanks!