the British Columbia Pipers' 66th Annual Gathering

OK.. OK..

Imagine you're in a shopping mall two days before Christmas.. it's really crowded..

Imagine that every second person has bagpipes, and wants to play them..

Imagine you have to warm up and tune up, along with 200 others, and you may get 15 feet of space for your space..

Imagine you can't hear to tune your drones - heck you can't even hear your chanter..

Imagine you walk into the's used by two(!) people trying to tune up...

Imagine the classroom is full, they're waiting to hear you play..

Imagine  it's your're up..

Yes indeed - you've got Saturday morning, the BC Pipers' 66th Annual Gathering...

What a great time..

This is the place, Seaquam Secondary School, North Delta, B. C., Canada

Upstairs,  in the hallways, in the bathrooms, and in the stairways,  there are many, many young pipers trying to get ready for their solo competitions.

It is difficult to even imagine the sound.

Friday April 10th, 1998: (Calm and dignified)

Professional and Grade 1 Piobaireachd are held in the Scottish Cultural Centre in Vancouver.  The bottom floor of this building has two rooms that the Open players use for tune up.  The main floor (second) contains two large rooms, one is used for the Open Piobaireachd competition. The top floor contains a large room used for the Grade 1 Piobaireachd competition and two small rooms used for Grade 1 tune up and warm up.  

In Grade 1 there were 18 players, in the Professional class there were 25.  Just like the big leagues (perhaps this is the big leagues), there were 2 judges (and a timer)  for each event. In Grade 1 the judges were Bob Worrall and Jack Lee. The organization of this event is very impressive, they really take care of the competitors, and they run on schedule.  There are no stressed stewards, or players, everything is reasonably quiet, calm and controlled.

(In this picture Alison is in the final tune up room, minutes before her Piobaireachd competition. On Saturday both Alison and Elizabeth shared this kilt - that was fun!)

Alison was very pleased with her  Piobaireachd, and this was all I ever hope for.  We had a chance to listen to fellow WUSPBAer John (Decker) Forrest, and were very impressed with his Piobaireachd - he finished second in the event. (The BC Pipers do not give out points on score sheets, and they do not announce other than the top 5 positions - I like this)

Stuart Liddel (from Oban,  but living in BC until August, playing with the SFU Pipe Band) won the Professional Piobaireachd; in fact Stuart won every professional piping event at the gathering, and one of the (many) prizes he won was a free trip to Scotland (This was reasonably amusing as Stuart plans to go over to Scotland with the SFU Pipe Band in August, and then stay home).  Stuart's piping skills are well known to the Northern California piping afficianados - he won the innagural Cameron / Gillies Championship at last year's Dan Reid Memorial contest in San Francisco and he will return to the Dan Reid to defend his title this year.

Here are Alison and Stuart Liddel after the awards ceremony on Saturday night. None of the Grade 1 or Professional results were announced until the ceremony on Saturday evening.

We went up to B.C. before the contest so Alison could take a Piobaireachd lesson from Stuart - her first Piobaireachd lesson in  quite a long time.  Not only  is Stuart tremendously talented as a piper, he is very knowledgeable, analytical, and patient as a teacher.  Alison had so much to take in that she was concerned her head might explode, but as you can tell, she survived.  (Without question her time with Stuart was the best instruction Alison has ever had in Piobaireachd)

On Friday evening, at the Centre, there were contests for Professional drummers  (MSR and Hornpipe / Jig) and Professional pipers (10 minute medley - includes tuning time).  I 've been told these contests were excellent, although we did not attend. (One day our daughters will be old enough to stay up late at night, and then we can  attend evening contests.)  

Duncan Millar (Drum Sargeant of the LA Scots when they won the World Championship in Grade 2 last year, and his LA Scots drum corps won best Drum Section - I want to consider him a WUSPBAer even though they say he's run away to play with SFU - actually he's going to law school) won one drumming event and finished second in the other.  Once again Duncan has shown what an incredibly talented drummer he is - (I know WUSPBA drumming will survive without Duncan Millar, but isn't it nice to know how really good he is?)

Saturday April 11, 1998: (Solo then bands)

The BC Pipers' Association does a wonderful job organising this competition. While the scene in the hallways of  the school is hard to describe, and chaos seems to reign supreme, everything goes very smoothly, and the stewards are very accommodating.  

Unfortunately we had to put the accommodating stewards to the test -  Alison's band kilt  was taken back by the band, so we  have only one kilt that fit both girls.  I tried  without success to borrow or rent a kilt that would fit one of them.  We have new kilts ordered, but they are weeks away - so it was kilt sharing.  So, in your mental picture of the Christmas shopping mall with half the people playing the pipes, add a California girl  running around in boxers.  As luck would have it the girls had to switch kilts 5 times for 4 piping events on Saturday - every time one was playing, the other was up.  Imagine a class room filled with spectators, waiting for a little girl from California; She's up to play, but she isn't wearing a kilt - only boxers? Her kilt is missing? OK, she is putting on the kilt; now she enters to play.  Alison and Liz took this very well, it did not adversely impact their day.  The BC Pipers? They must think we're pretty strange..

Liz's competition day was not her best.  I was hoping she would play well, so we could see how she'd compare to the BC grade 4 players.  Liz was a bit nervous in her 2/4 March - she played it very well, but (for the first time ever) she blew two of her drones shut. She finished anyway, and received very nice and encouraging comments from the judge (Bob Worrall).  In her Slow March Liz was so afraid of over blowing, that she was very unsteady.  Again her fingering was quite good (for her), but the blowing was not to good.  Liz was disappointed. I only want them to learn from each experience, and Liz has some very good things she'll learn from this.  She'll be back.

Alison's competition day was quite good  - although she also learned a valuable lesson.  Normally Alison is among bagpiping friends, and she is very (too) social.  She didn't  have anyone at this competition to chat with, so she played, and played and played.  Alison guesses she played on the pipes for over 90 minutes before her first event.  Her chanter sounded terrible - because the reed was dripping wet.  We didn't know what to do (no spare reed), so she played her MSR with a very bad bagpipe sound.  She was happy with her playing, but unhappy with the sound.  Before her Jig I asked John Cessna what to do about her chanter reed - his suggestion (a little squeeze will sharpen it up) really saved the Jig event for her. The room was full, Alison had to wait to get the kilt, she changed, came in to play, tuned herself (again - she did this all weekend), and played - very well for her, she was happy.  We counted later - the jig she played  (Grade 1 players submit 3 jigs, one is chosen for them to play) has 28 grips, and 24 birls! A good choice for her, because it shows off her fingers quite well.  In the evening we heard that she placed 2nd in  the jig - out of 25 Grade 1 players - the medal she won there is now her favorite. (Alison now feels like she belongs in Grade 1 - having competed in a large contest in Canada, being very happy with her playing, and the bonus of  getting a 'prize' - not bad for a 13 year girl old from California.)

During the afternoon the professional pipers play in the auditorium. In the evening the band contest is held in the same venue.

The band contest started at 6:15, and ran until 9:15. In that time we heard 6 grade 4 bands, 6 grade 3 bands, 5 grade 2 bands, and 2 grade 1 bands - a total of 19 bands. (Yes I said 20 bands - one grade 1 band was there, and only practised).

Now these bands were actually BC Mini Bands - limited to 6 pipers, 2 snares, 1 tenor and a bass.  There was (I'm told) a motion in the association to increase the size of the mini-band to 10 pipers - the motion failed.  (Can you imagine - these are their mini bands!)

To witness BC bands is to be impressed with the future of piping in BC.  There are so many young kids in so many bands; well it is very inspiring.  5 of the competing bands were kids bands - and by kids bands I mean  pipers 9 to 17 years - grade 4 seemed to be 9-13 (including at least one pipe major!), grade 3 bands seem to be 13 to 17 - a wonderful youth movement.  Alison loved it!

The picture is the Robert Malcom Memorial Grade 3 'A' band - they won the grade 3 contest, and we're guessing they'd really scare grade 2 bands in the USA.  You can see the bands do not circle up, they form a half circle of pipers, open to the audience, with the drummers in the back row. (It was amusing to see the different ways of forming a half circle - and the different methods of getting off stage).  This  formation is probably intimidating to the pipers, but it is great for the audience.

My impressions - Grade 4 - amazingly young pipers, and quite good. Grade 3  - watch for RMM, they're very good.  Grade 2 - the revised Maple Ridge Legion put out two excellent mini bands - I think they're going to be something special in Grade 2 this year. Grade 1 - well SFU was there and guess who was one of their two snare drummers - yes, Duncan Millar - that was great.

The young pipers (in fact all the pipers) appear very normal, clean cut, and nice.  I didn't see any SF bike messengers in training, (no strange hair cuts, no strange hair colors, no collection or display of pierced body parts, no young druggies or young drunks)  I really liked what I saw.

 Imagine - 19 bands in 3 hours.

Immediately following the band competition was the awards ceremony.  Again, seeing the young age of the winners was inspiring.

They are pretty serious about trophies for the Annual Gathering. Here are some of the perpetual trophies to be awarded to specific event and overall winners at the awards ceremony on Saturday night.

Stuart Liddel won about half of this hardware (it seemed like it).

We (as a family) will continue to attend this event, and in fact we'll probably try to make it to more BC piping contests. If you can make it to the annual gathering, I heartily recommend it - an event that is well run, well attended, with high caliber everything, an interesting venue, and wonderful music.

Bob Dunsire 4/14/98