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Scottish highland bagpipe

The Highland Bagpipe by Robert Wallace

Isn't it good in this life when you try something and it works out for the best? About a year ago we launched a campaign to save a pipe band. Not any old band, but Glasgow's Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, one of the best in the world and a winner of the world title on 23 occasions – more than any other band.

The problem was that the force (the largest in Scotland) had a new Chief Constable who neither understood the band nor the culture under which it flourished. To him the band was superfluous to requirements, an unnecessary intrusion. He promptly set about disbanding the staff unit formed so that band members' shift patterns could be coordinated for practices. Other annual duties performed by them were cancelled. These included, would you believe, playing for a local charity event for orphaned children and a 100-year-old local fair in the district of Govan, scene of the band's formation.

These decisions were met with shock and disbelief, not just in the piping community, but also among the general public, many of whom, although not well versed in the pipe band milieu, considered this band to be "their own." (Since the local taxpayer pays for it, not an ill-placed assumption.) So, as I say, the man in question, Chief Constable Stephen House, failed to appreciate the affection the band was held in and also the highly positive public relations function it performed for his force.

These issues aside, I had another concern. Here we had a 120-year-old Scottish musical institution of the highest calibre, which could, with the stroke of a pen, be cast into oblivion. Did those in authority not remember the glory days under Pipe Major Ian McLellan and his 14 world titles? Had they forgotten the music they played and how it influenced a generation? Sure, there was some jealousy in the force at the special dispensation given to the pipers and drummers: the day shifts, the waivers from some duties. Yet, these were unique, talented individuals with special skills. Doesn't that usually garner some privilege? Ah, but this was only piping and drumming, not a real talent, not a real musical gift. The old Scottish disease again of undervaluing our tradition had reared its uncultured skull once more. The sense of outrage in the piping community was palpable. We wouldn't just stand idly by and let this happen.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2010 issue of Scottish Life.

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