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.

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