The masses have spoken. The ban on bagpiping on Vancouver city streets has been lifted after a spirited uproar from bagpipers, piping organizations, the general population and a cabinet minister from Scotland.
The bylaw banning the excessive noise of bagpipes, drums, bongos and tambourines on city streets was quietly introduced by the city’s engineering department several months ago. It was unnoticed until young piper Kyle Banta, who busks on city streets each summer, applied for his license. To his, and much of the city’s surprise, he was informed ‘no more bagpipe busking on city streets.’
When the news hit the streets, it created a furor. The Mayor wouldn’t have it, and neither would thousands of people who chimed in with their opinions online, in mainstream media and in newspapers around the world. Even the visiting Scottish culture minister spoke against the bylaw. The mayor asked city staff to review the issue after he became aware of the change to the city’s noise-regulations. One of the many bagpipe supporters who bemoaned the bylaw is former Vancouver city mayor and current Senator Larry Campbell. “While Mayor Robertson is from a different clan, as with the vast majority of his decisions, I applause his decision to free the pipes,” said Campbell in an email.
“The ban was ridiculous and ill thought out. Bag pipes are magnificent instruments that have led troops to battle, lamented the death of
many and soothed the soul. Of course there is a place for them in Vancouver.”
Most pipers, including me, agree that there should be a level of competence before a piper is loosed on city streets. The bagpipes are a magnificent but difficult instrument to master. It can take years of lessons and practice before a piper is comfortable and confident with the instrument. Ensuring a bagpipe is properly tuned and the tunes properly played should be mandatory. It is a great disservice to the music, the people who listen and the great players of the past to play the instrument poorly in public.
“While the pipes may not be every ones cup of tea, I have heard similar complaints about rappers, blues and rock performers,” says Campbell. “Vancouver is a diverse city and music is a core component.”
My advice to the city was, of course, to lift the ban. But I also suggest every bagpiper who intends to busk on city streets be judged beforehand. There are many top-level professional pipers and judges in B.C. and any one of these could determine in minutes whether or not a piper is fit for performing in public. The food carts in Vancouver must be judged. I suggest the same for bagpipers.
According to a story in the Canadian Press, SFU Pipe Band Pipe Major Terry Lee is also relieved. “I think everyone should have the right for freedom of expression, especially in the cultural arts, and bagpipes in the right hands are a beautiful instrument.”
With warmer days ahead and summer approaching, I look forward to finally getting outside to play what is certainly “a beautiful instrument.” And it will be nice to do this without incurring a City of Vancouver ticket.