From the world’s largest, to North America’s oldest, there are many great Scottish highland games around the world. To name just a few, the largest is the Cowal Highland Gathering in Scotland; in the US, there are the Pleasanton Games in California and the Grandfather Mountain Games in North Carolina and the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville, Ontario. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Antigonish Highland Games in Nova Scotia, the oldest continuous Games in North America).
The commonalty between these games and countless other smaller games around the world is competition. From the earliest times, games were a community gathering to determine who was the strongest, who was the best musician, the best dancer and in later years, the best pipe band. Today, competition day continues to generate excitement as the “heavies”, the bagpipers, the highland dancers and the pipe bands meet on a field, warm up and then compete.
In British Columbia, a strong Scottish heritage has been the foundation of a vibrant competitive piping and pipe band scene that has developed some of the best bands and individual pipers in the world. For decades, a major stop in the annual pipe band competition circuit has been the BC Highland Games (now held in Coquitlam). It’s a great day of competition, at all levels, culminating in the Grade 1 competition between Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band, former world champions Simon Fraser University Pipe Band and sometimes visiting Grade 1 bands from elsewhere.
Today, however, highland games are no longer exclusively about competition. Some games have already dropped the name “Games” from their title, substituting “gathering” or “Scottish festival” in its place. It’s a move that reflects a widening of the scope of highland games to include more aspects of Scottish and Celtic culture, such as food, clothing, history and of course, great whisky.
And as other Games around the world have evolved, so too is the BC Highland Games. In the past few years, non-competitive highland dancers have performed for the crowd, without the stress of competition and adjudication. Musicians perform on the main stage for the audience, delivering a different kind of Celtic music. However, there have rarely been performances by non-competitive bands other than the games’ “duty band” that could be any band from the region.
In the Lower Mainland alone, there are almost a dozen non-competitive pipe bands, including three large police pipe bands (one of which I play in), who perform for festivals, parades and many other community events. These are often the bands you see marching
down the street in small communities, or playing for civic or private events. From new pipers, learning the ‘ropes’ to seasoned competitive players who have left behind the stress and grind of a competitive season. And in between are folks who just like to play the bagpipes. The music is less regimented, with more emphasis on musicality and what band members want to play. And while there are challenges, there is also great satisfaction for many who just like to play the pipes for fun.
This year the BC Highland Games will be inviting six of these non-competitive bands to provide a 15-minute performance at the games on June 20, 2015 at Percy Parry Stadium in Coquitlam. Each band can provide a drum major and colour guard if so desired. The performances will run between 10am and 1pm. The BC Pipers Assn. (BCPA) will provide an ensemble adjudication of your performance for your own personal use. There will be no ranking of bands. Bands can opt out of this adjudication. A band must consist of at least six pipers and a drum corps. There is no maximum number of players. All bands are invited to play in massed bands at the end of the day and of course, relax afterwards in the beer garden.
Due to time constraints, the BC Games committee will limit participation to six bands only. The Games committee will make the final decision on which bands will be invited to perform.
Any band interested in applying can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Decisions on which bands will be selected will be made in the new year.