If the Tri-Cities seemed a little quieter this week, it’s likely because 11 pipers and drummers left the region.
Tri-City musicians Mackenzie Webster, Richard Gillies, Danielle Millar, Lauren Tietze, Alistair Lee, Allison Anderson, Andrew Lee, Reid Maxwell and Stephen Paynter will face one other Canadian band — the 78th Fraser Highlanders — plus 13 ensembles from Britain, Ireland and New Zealand for the highly anticipated Grade 1 events.
Band manager Robert MacNeil, a Coquitlam resident, said SFUPB “has been working quite hard this year” and he’s confident the players are on solid ground as they head into the competitions. Last year and in 2017, SFUPB placed fifth overall; it last won the worlds in 2009, its sixth world title.
Still, the new format for Grade 1 bands this year will be interesting, MacNeil said, with the championships spread over two days.
Because there are fewer Grade 1 bands playing, the 15 groups perform both of their MSRs (March, Strathsprey and a Reel) and medleys on different days. That means all Grade 1 bands have two separate MSRs and medleys, and are able to choose which one they play on Friday and then must play the alternate set on Saturday.
“The four performances all factor into the overall results,” MacNeil said.
While that structure may create some topsy-turvy scores, “I think everybody realizes it’s serious business over there but there’s also social enjoyment,” he said. “We play well but, ultimately, the decision is in the hands of 16 judges.”
Last year’s competition was won by Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band of Northern Ireland. More than 30,000 people attended the events to see the Grade 1 to Novice Juvenile B musicians and dancers, of whom 40% were under the age of 25.
Two months after the Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band announced it would stop competing due to the end of its 10-year sponsorship by the Dowco Group of Companies, its Port Coquitlam leaders joined another Grade 1 ensemble — 7,000 km away.
Dowco pipe-major David Hilder and his wife, Shaunna Hilder, signed up last November to play with the Glasgow-based ScottishPower Pipe Band, a group that took third place at the worlds at Glasgow Green in 2013 and second spot in 2012 — just ahead of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.
The 26-year PoCo residents said they made the switch after talking with ScottishPower’s Pipe-Major Chris Armstrong.
“Chris is a superb musicians and composer [and he] has a leadership style that very much aligns with our principles,” David Hilder wrote to The Tri-City News in an email from Scotland last week.
Wednesday, ScottishPower play at the pre-world championships concert at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. The show at the famed venue follows four championships this season, which saw wins in piping at the British championships and the drumming sash at the Scottish championships; ScottishPower also placed second overall twice and fourth overall twice as a band.
“The band is going very well and we are looking forward to a great worlds,” David Hilder wrote.
The demise of the Triumph Street band means less local competition and only five active Grade 1 bands in North America: SFU; 78th Fraser Highlanders; 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel); Toronto Police; and City of Dunedin, Florida.
According to its website, Dowco had success in the 1970s and ’80s but, by the late ’80s, it slipped by a few grades. It returned to a Grade 1 level in 2007 after David Hilder and some of SFU’s Grade 2 Robert Malcolm Memorial band members joined Dowco and won the North American Championships.
But, unlike SFU, Dowco never cracked the Top 3 at the worlds in Glasgow.
Although its sponsorship from the Canadian structural steel consulting organization over, Dowco players are continuing in other Grade 1 bands in Canada and Scotland, Shaunna Hilder said, and some have taken leadership posts in lower grades as well.
“We are proud of all the Dowco players and their accomplishments,” she said.