Pipe Dreams

Posted on June 28, 2014 under Storytelling with 2 comments


Mark Chisholm and Gerald MacDonald – Enchanting!



“Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling …”

Frederic Weatherly

When I hear the peepers, I know that spring is here and summer is sure to follow.  When the leaves start falling from the trees, winter can’t be far off.  And when I hear the first three notes of a bagpiper playing outdoors, I realize that The Highland Games are just around the corner.

I grew up on Hillcrest Street, next door to one of the best pipers to ever come out of this province.  We were also within shouting distance of Columbus Field.  You could sit in the back yard during the Games and hear Ray Mac’s voice coming through the loudspeakers, announcing the next group of pipers and drummers.

Besides uttering the words “I do”, being piped in and out of the cathedral by Marilyn on our wedding day was the highlight of the ceremony.

Antigonish has a rich tradition of piping and drumming and has produced world class bands over the decades.  One of the missions of The Antigonish Highland Society is to preserve and perpetuate the music of the Gael.  From 2006-2009, The Antigonish Highland Society had a limited number of pipers and drummers.  In 2009, the band decided that they needed to return to a regular summer schedule and partnered with Old Scotia Pipes and Drums from Great Village.

I stopped in at one of their weekly practices in the town of Pictou.  I saw 14 year old Mark Chisholm practicing with his chanter.  Beside him is 80-something Gerald MacDonald, son of “Jack the Piper”.  There is no “generation gap” here.  Just a group of people plying their craft and preserving the Scottish heritage.

This is a story about collaboration.  According to Pipe Major Lorna MacIsaac, “Old Scotia had Ray Halliday, an experienced lead drummer, who helped us recruit and instruct local Antigonish drummers. What was most important was that our partnership would be an opportunity to continue piping and drumming in our individual communities.”  I noticed the shirts that several band members were wearing.  They bear the logos of both bands in order to maintain their identities as they work together. (This could be a template for municipal reform across the province!)

Several years ago, friends from Toronto travelled east for the first time and accepted our invitation to stay with us.  They just so happened to arrive on my birthday.  That summer, my sister-in-law and her family were also staying with us while their daughters attended theatre camp.  Her husband is an accomplished piper.

It was one of those glorious warm, soft summer evenings and a singsong broke out on the front deck.  At around 10:00 o’clock, I could hear the unmistakable skirl of the pipes as Mike rounded the side of the house.  Our guests had never heard the bagpipes.  The look on their faces was a cross between astonishment and fear.  Good thing that someone wasn’t following behind the piper, brandishing a Claymore.  I fear that they might have thought the world was about to end.  We told them that it was the usual end to a Saturday night in Antigonish.

The storied history of piping and the pipe band continues.  Two very different communities have taken what is best and are making beautiful music together.


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