By David F. Rooney
Does the skirling of bagpipes and the beat of a drum send shivers up your spine? Does it make you want to wear plaid?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to those questions then the Revelstoke Highlanders Pipe Band would like to hear from you. In fact, you might say that the Revelstoke and Salmon Arm Pipe Band would be interested in you.
Wait a minute… the Revelstoke and Salmon Arm Pipe Band?
The two bands are not quite a single entity but they collaborate in so many ways that at times they function as a single band.
“On our own we’re a little bit too small,” said long-time band member Archie McConnachie, during a recent interview at Conversations Coffee House. The band has a number of pipers in various stages of development and a drummer, but it could use additional musicians, he said.
Salmon Arm has 14 pipers and a number of drummers and they welcome participation by Revelstoke’s small band at at certain events.
“There are other pipers in town and we’d like to see them join us,” says skilled piper Louisa Fleming. ““Our numbers have dropped drastically over the last few years so we really need new members, particularly snare drummers. If you have done any type of drumming in the past we can get you instruction in highland drumming. And Archie teaches piping lessons.”
Archie got his start playing the bagpipe in Kimberly when he was 13. And has been doing it ever since. He said it’s relatively easy to learn how to play a bag pipe.
“If you’re in your mid-20s it’ll take you six to 10 months to get on to the pipes,” he said. “You have to memorize all of your tunes. They’re not really hard to play. It’s a technique that you learn but you have to keep blowing, blowing, blowing — it’s just practice.
“The younger you are when you start the more supple your fingers are. I played until I went into the air force and then I didn’t play for six years and when I came back home, started playing again. I had to work at it a little bit but it all came back.”
The fact that there once was a Highland Dancing Program in Revelstoke made it easy for local pipers to keep their hands in. But that program faded away some years back.
That doesn’t mean there are no events for local pipers and drummers. You can see them in parades (often with the Salmon Arm Pipe Band), kicking off the annual Carousel of Nations and at special events such as every April’s ceremony at the Workers’ memorial to commemorate workers killed and injured on the job.
Joining the band is something of an investment. A good set of pipes can run you $2,000 and the full kit (kilt, sporran, shoes, socks, cap or beret and the small dagger known as a sgian dubh) for a band might cost you $1,700, Louisa said. So this is a musical and cultural investment that you can’t taske lightly.
And the rewards? Pipers and drummers keep alive traditions that are prized in our country and every so often some community holds a Spring Fling. A Spring Fling brings together pipe bands from far and wide. Revelstoke held one in Queen Elizabeth Park in 2013 and Vernon held one last May. These colourful events are always well attended and the music is thrilling.
If you are interested in this form of music call Louisa at 837-6385 or Archie at 837-4701.
Please click here to read our story and see photos and video from Revelstoke’s 2013 Spring Fling.