Piping pride

Amy MacKenzie
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Local bagpiper encourages youth to strike up an interest in Scottish Music

Lorna MacIsaac sets the chanter on her bagpipes in her home in Pictou. She says the pipe band scene has changed in Pictou County over the years, but the interest in Scottish music locally is still strong. 

PICTOU - It was a foggy September night in the 1960s when five-year-old Lorna MacIsaac first heard the bagpipes. She was at the Pictou exhibition in the outdoor grand stand waiting for the crowning of the Queen to happen when the pipers struck their bags and the drones began to wail. 

“There was a mass pipes and drums demonstration. They led in the group and what was really neat about it was that it rained that night, good old September, and it was foggy, but what I heard was bagpipes,” she said.

Years later she was asked what kind of drum she wanted to play in the Heatherbells Girls Pipe Band, but said none of them because for her, bagpipes was the only instrument she wanted to play.

Now, Lorna examines her bagpipes with practiced hands. She has continued to play the bagpipes and actively promotes Scottish culture in Pictou County through teaching and her involvement with the Atlantic Canadian Pipe Band Association. She has watched the pipe band scene in Pictou County change over the years and maintains that Scottish music is an important piece of local history that people should embrace and encourage youth to learn.

When she started playing the bagpipes with the Heatherbells in Pictou in the early 70s, she said pipe bands were a popular hobby for young girls in the county. There was the Balmoral Girls Pipe Band out of Stellarton, the Dunvegan Girls Pipe Band out of Westville, the Ceilidh Pipe Band out of New Glasgow and the Heatherbell Pipe Band out of Pictou.        

“Girl pipe bands were huge part of our scene here locally. It was at that time in the 70s, we didn’t have all kinds of things to do, boys or girls. Parents said you did one activity and that was it,” she said. “We really jumped on board so you had large pipe bands. You would have 25 to 30 members in a pipe band. In our hayday with the Heatherbells in 1974 to 1977 range, we would have had probably 30 girls in the band and I did not see that again until many of my fellow players had families and their kids were in pipe bands, boys and girls. That would have happened in the ’90s.”

MacIsaac says you won’t see a youth pipe band that size in Pictou County today, but the number of pipe bands in the area is the same. She said while youth aren’t as involved in pipe bands now as they were when she was growing up, adults have become very involved in the scene.

“We have a lot of adults who have kept piping and we have adults who played as kids then moved back home or moved here as new residents and we have a lot of adult learners. Our youth component would include the Heatherbells, Clan Thompson, 219 (Cadets),” she said.

Local pipe bands that are mostly comprised of adult players are Na Gaisgich Pipes and Drums out of Pictou, and Pictou County Pipes and Drums out of Westville.

MacIsaac now plays with Antigonish Highland Society Old Scotia Pipes and Drums based out of Pictou, one of six bands that practice in the county. It’s a band that was formerly two separate bands, but because of a drop in the number of players they decided to combine.

MacIsaac said while most of her former band mates from the 70s stopped playing, she has continued because she loves the music and community of people involved in the pipe band scene.

“It’s an emotional attachment for many of us who have continued to play,” she said. “For myself, my motivation when I turned to teaching piping at the Heatherbells 20 years ago was that my daughter signed up.”

MacIsaac is also involved in the Atlantic Canadian Pipe Band Association as past president and in that capacity has realized the need for Scottish music to be promoted at the school level.

“It should be part of our school’s curriculum. We have instructors who live in our province who are teachers who can transfer those skills in a class,” she said, adding that Mabou School incorporates the Gaelic language into its curriculum. “We need to encourage that kind of music because it is something that is important from our tourism perspective from our community perspective and our arts and culture perspective and it’s fun.”

To contact a local pipe band about getting involved, go to acpba.ca and click on the “bands” tab.



On Twitter: @NGNewsAmy

Organizations: Atlantic Canadian Pipe Band Association, Balmoral Girls Pipe Band, Dunvegan Girls Pipe Band Antigonish Highland Society Old Scotia Pipes Mabou School

Geographic location: Pictou County, Westville, Stellarton New Glasgow

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