As a young boy in Houston, TX, I was learning to play the pipes in order to rile up the crowd at football games for my local high school, The Woodlands Highlanders. That isn't exactly the pinnacle of Scottish culture but we all have to start somewhere.
At that time I played with a group of two other pipers, no drummers. I had recently been to a Highland Games in Arlington, TX, and was inspired by the likes of Neil Anderson ripping out reels as fast as I'd ever heard along with the rock ensemble of Seven Nations. I was enthralled by the idea of 'celtic rock' and saw that as the epitome of what was possible with the instrument.
Then I went and saw the Scots Guards perform in the Astrodome. I'd been aware of the legendary regiment since childhood when my dad used to play Scots Guards and Black Watch records in the house. But to see them live was a whole new experience. As they advanced onto the field I was enthralled by the wall of sound they created. With 5 across the front and 4 ranks deep they were the most impressive site I had seen with their drill and uniforms. I had never seen anything like it, and they opened my eyes to the idea of a 'pipe band.'
Little did I know 20 years later I might get an opportunity to perform and march with that same legendary unit that had inspired me to pursue the mastery of the Highland bagpipe.
I remember the second time I saw the Scots Guards.
I had moved to Vancouver to attend film school and while there decided to join the Vancouver Police Pipe Band to continue my piping career. The band was attending the first and final Las Vegas International Tattoo, and I was delighted to learn that one of the bands in attendance was the Scots Guards.
Upon arriving in Las Vegas, I was disheartened to see the massive band that had inspired my youth was a shell of itself. Unable to muster even the 10 pipers needed to perform in the massed bands, the Scots Guards ranks were filled every performance with guest pipers from the other bands.
This is a struggle I'd discover was not unique to just the Scots Guards. My brief tenure with the Houston Highlanders revealed to me an organization desperate for new blood. While attending Saint Andrews University, our college pipe band continually faced recruiting challenges. The Vancouver Police Pipe Band were in a similar crisis when I joined, with members retiring faster than the band could recruit.
(Saint Andrews Pipe Band after 2005 Southern EUSPBA championship)
But the Scots Guards are LEGENDARY. Surely the enormity of their history should be enough to keep them afloat with new pipers and drummers who want to share in that rich history?
And so, too, with many other pipe bands including the Vancouver Police, the oldest active continually serving police pipe band in the world.
In our modern "instaworld" the idea of doing something the way it's been done for hundreds of years is a hard pill to swallow for many youth. And it's hard to blame them. There's so much to see and do that exists at the tip of your fingers. Why would you commit precious time to a single activity, like mastering an ancient instrument, or marching in perfect unison when that requires doing the same thing over and over, and over?
Is it any wonder that these organizations are failing to attract the next generation?
It's a story about trying to stay relevant against the steady march of the world. Finding the value in not only taking the time to perfect something, but inspiring in others to take up the torch and carry tradition forward.
Could doing something 'old' in a new way that no one has ever done before be enough to inspire the next wave of talent to fill the ranks?
I remember the first time I saw the Scots Guards, and I remember that young boy that walked out of that stadium with a torch in his hand.