The Personal Side of the Pipes and Drums

Enough of the formal information! Who are we today?

Although the Pipes and Drums are sponsored by the Regiment, we are all volunteers – meaning we are not in the army and musicians do not have to join the army to be in the pipe band. However, as identified by our Purpose statement, we honour the Regiment and its history through a variety of performances. Unlike most Pipe Bands in the province, we participate in a wide variety of performance types:

  • Parades: community sponsored parades and accompanying events. Most notable is the Calgary Stampede Parade.
  • Military Events: quite varied – range from visits by the Queen to Change of Command ceremonies, to Mess Dinner performances, to performances for visiting political dignitaries
  • Competitions: we compete each year at the Grade III level and higher if feeling particularly lucky
  • Performances: outdoor and indoor musical performances for a variety of audiences.

These four are not in priority order. By far we enjoy the Performances that we are asked to do. These are quite varied and take us to different parts of Canada and the world. We have played the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland, Montreal, Toronto, Victoria and Vancouver, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, England and Estes Park in Colorado. We compete to maintain the quality of our music. Military events and Parades happen at certain times of the year and afford us an opportunity to exercise our skills in marching and drill. And we do look good!

We take three things very seriously – our responsibility to the Regiment, our commitment to high quality musical performances and our strong community within the band. We remember and celebrate our regimental history and all that that means. We honour the past members of the Regiment who have fought in two world wars and the current members who served in Bosnia, Cyprus, Afghanistan and other UN, NATO and Canadian missions in the world. We celebrate the music, the Regiment’s history (battle honours, the uniform, Nov 11, etc.), the roots of the Celtic culture, our accomplishments as a band, each other and the fact that we have accomplished much together.

We also take our stewardship role seriously. We believe that we have inherited a responsibility from pipers and drummers before us and must steward the music for those that come after us. The music was held for us and we, in turn, hold it for the future. We feel the continuity with history that we represent through our music, our uniforms, our performance standards. We do this through choice, not obligation and it provides a very clear purpose for the band members. We reflect by extension the family that is the Regiment. We see our sense of community and teamwork as a virtue that provides motivation, stability, inspiration and focus.

Our community within the band is one of its strengths. There is good support for learning and a strong social network of friends. As all pipe bands we have a wide diversity of people from many backgrounds who come together for the music and who would never likely meet each other under any other circumstances. In short, the band has heart. Currently our average age is about 27 with the youngest at 16 and the oldest at 67. Some members have just begun their professional careers, others have started families, and other members have adult children and established careers.

Pipes, Drums & Dancers

The Pipes and Drums number (as of 2010/2011 season) 14 pipers and 12 drummers and 4 dancers.

The pipe section accepts experienced pipers only. The section accepts pipers from all bands who wish to play with a grade III level section. There is a training program beginning in the Fall of 2003 for pipers who wish to play with the current section in the followings season. The pipe section has recently reconstituted itself and has chosen a rigorous training schedule. The focus has been on ‘the basics’, on creating high-quality performances and on the competitions in Calgary and Canmore, Alberta. An MSR and 2 Medleys are part of the performance and competition repertoire.

The Drummers play 7 Sides and one each Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Deep Baritone and Bass. Apart from some new mid-section drummers, the corps has been together for over three years. The Drums compete in the fanfare competitions at Highland Games and provide drummers’ salutes and fanfares for public performances. They even play on their own as a drum line and often play with non-traditional instruments.

The Dancers of the Calgary Highlanders aim to promote and share the tradition of Highland Dancing within the community. All four dancers with the Calgary Highlanders are professionally trained with more than 20 years experience each as competitive dancers. In addition, each dancer has taken years of exams with the Scottish Dance Teachers’ Alliance (S.D.T.A. Performances include traditional highland dances, national dances, jigs and hornpipes. The dancers also choreograph and perform dances to traditional tunes, non-traditional tunes and percussion. The Dancers of the Calgary Highlanders love to perform and entertain, and all shows are done purely for the enjoyment of dancing. These choreographies are performed at appropriate functions.

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The association remains viable because of our members’ donations.

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Edinburgh Tattoo, 2000

By Mike O’Connor
When we first heard that the band was invited to play for the 2000 Edinburgh Military Tattoo, it was with a mixture of disbelief and nervousness that we began our long journey toward fundraising and learning the music. Many long hours of dedicated practice were devoted to rising to the challenge, both in becoming proficient with the scores, and honing our dress and deportment in a manner befitting the best traditions of the Canadian Military.

When we arrived at the Calgary Airport on July 23rd, our disbelief turned to euphoria as the event we had worked so hard toward was finally at hand. We pulled into Redford Barracks in Edinburgh in the early evening the next day, which is the home parade square of our sister regiment, the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The following week was spent practicing for the Queen Mother’s birthday performance, nicknamed “the Big Blaw.” We only had four days to play together as a massed band, together with other regiments from all over Scotland and the Commonwealth, so our days tended to be rather long. The dress rehearsal was, for most of us, the first time we had ever been in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle; an awe-inspiring experience for all. Since the Regimental Pipes and Drums of the Calgary Highlanders were the largest single Canadian contingent in the performance, some members of the band were designated to flesh out the ranks of other Commonwealth bands. On performance night, Her Majesty the Queen Mother saw the bands of the Royal Victoria Rifles from Australia, The Wellington and Tarranakie Regiment from New Zealand, The Cape Town Highlanders from South Africa, and Canada’s own Cameron and Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) bolstered by members of the Calgary Highlanders.

After the performance, all the other bands were given a well-deserved weekend off, while we boarded a bus to the hometown of Drum Major Jim Stewart. En route, we put on a minor performance on the shores of Loch Fyne for the local community, followed closely by a reception at Inverary Castle. That was truly our first taste of true Highland hospitality, as we were presented with individual gifts, fed and watered to our heart’s content, and treated like royalty. After a week of British Army mess hall food, the catered lunch and bar was a welcome change! We were then herded back onto the bus for the journey to Lochgilphead.

This lovely “wee” town nestled in a glen at the apex of Loch Fyne opened its welcoming arms to us. The Drum Major’s emotional return home began as he led the band down the main street to the square in front of the town’s war memorial, where the Canadian flag was flying in the breeze in our honour. We then put on a performance that was received with ovation and hearty cheers. As the sun set o’er the Loch we were invited as the guests of honour at the Grand Ceilidh put on by the people of the town. There we were wined, dined, danced and entertained to the small hours of the morning. It was with a sad heart (and more than one aching head) that we boarded the bus back to Edinburgh, to begin work in earnest for the Tattoo.

The following week was by no means less arduous than the last. We fought through twelve hour days of endless repetition and adjustments to the music, most of which was undertaken in the midst of torrential downpours and continually bellowing British NCO’s. The hard work was worth the effort though, when on the first night of the Tattoo and the massive doors to the ancient castle burst open with the entrance of the pipe band, the proudest members of the largest assemblage of military pipers and drummers in the Tattoo’s history were those members from Calgary. For many of us, a lifelong dream was realized as we crossed the drawbridge and marched smartly onto the esplanade of Edinburgh castle. We performed the show 27 times, and each time we maintained that same level of pride.

Over the course of the next five weeks in Scotland, we were honoured to participate in many other special events. The Millennium March saw the streets of Edinburgh flooded with massive pipe bands; rumour has it that there were over ten thousand participants on parade.

Under the hill where the Wallace monument stands proudly, we competed at the Bridge of Allen Highland Games. To promote the Tattoo, the pipes and drums played several small shows throughout Edinburgh, and even one in the Glasgow Cavalcade.

On one afternoon, we were provided with a bus to travel to the Regimental Museum of the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders housed in Stirling Castle. Our sister regiment was kind enough to invite both the Calgary Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada to their Sergeant’s mess for dinner and drinks. There we were honoured with a presentation of the band’s own paining of the “Thin Red Line,” which now hangs in the Pipe Major’s office.

Our trip was not all work though. After settling into the routine of the Tattoo performances, we had our days free to ourselves allowing us to take in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. At the time, the Edinburgh festival was in full swing, attracting all manner of performers and visual art from all over the world. It was possible to walk along the street and not hear the same language spoken by the passing tourists for blocks on end. The nightlife was exotic, the culture and history fascinating, and the people we met will be remembered in friendship forever. We were also able to maintain the well-known Canadian reputation for being friendly, professional, and lots of fun at parties. There were many nights in the NAAFI (a junior ranks club for all intents and purposes) where it was the Canadians, and particularly the Calgarians, that were the first to make friends, the first to start having fun, and usually the last to leave any good time. It can truly be said that it was the experience of a lifetime.

We in the band would like to thank the Regimental funds foundation for its tireless effort and support in making this trip happen, as well as the members of the Regiment for their support. In fact, in the year 2000, close to six hundred thousand people saw the Regimental Pipes and Drums in live performances in Canada and Britain. The reputation of the Calgary Highlanders was maintained with pride and dignity in its best tradition. The band stands ready to represent and serve the Regiment at home or abroad.

Under the hill where the Wallace monument stands proudly, we competed at the Bridge of Allen Highland Games. To promote the Tattoo, the pipes and drums played several small shows throughout Edinburgh, and even one in the Glasgow Cavalcade.

On one afternoon, we were provided with a bus to travel to the Regimental Museum of the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders housed in Stirling Castle. Our sister regiment was kind enough to invite both the Calgary Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada to their Sergeant’s mess for dinner and drinks. There we were honoured with a presentation of the band’s own paining of the “Thin Red Line,” which now hangs in the Pipe Major’s office.

Our trip was not all work though. After settling into the routine of the Tattoo performances, we had our days free to ourselves allowing us to take in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. At the time, the Edinburgh festival was in full swing, attracting all manner of performers and visual art from all over the world. It was possible to walk along the street and not hear the same language spoken by the passing tourists for blocks on end. The nightlife was exotic, the culture and history fascinating, and the people we met will be remembered in friendship forever. We were also able to maintain the well-known Canadian reputation for being friendly, professional, and lots of fun at parties. There were many nights in the NAAFI (a junior ranks club for all intents and purposes) where it was the Canadians, and particularly the Calgarians, that were the first to make friends, the first to start having fun, and usually the last to leave any good time. It can truly be said that it was the experience of a lifetime.