Hundreds of bagpipers, drummers compete at B.C.'s Annual Gathering

The British Columbia Pipers’ Association (BCPA) held their Annual Gathering at Clayton Heights Secondary School on April 14 and 15.

Since 1932, pipers, drummers and pipe bands have met at the gathering to test their mettle against one another. Now in its 85th year, it is one of North America’s largest and most prestigious piping competitions.

Musicians from across the world travel to B.C. to be a part of the competition, and to play as a part of the province’s world-renowned pipe bands.

Take Louise Bentley, for example.

She’s 15 years old and has travelled 11,400 km to play the snare drum in the SFU Pipe Band.

Bentley is from Rotorua, a city on New Zealand’s North Island. But from January through August, she’s living in the Lower Mainland so that she can play for the pipe band.

She said it’s been really good so far, and that she’s already “learned heaps.”

Although this is her first extended stay in Canada, it isn’t her first visit. She’s been coming to the Piping Hot Summer Drummer school, run by the SFU Pipe Band in Vernon every July, since she began playing the snare drum at 11 years old.

Travelling is a part of playing for a pipe band, she said.

She certainly wasn’t the only out-of-towner at the Annual Gathering.

The Annual Gathering is the start of the pipe band competition season and many travel to B.C. for the annual kick-off.

Musicians from the U.S., Scotland, Northern Ireland and New Zealand competed in the two day event, which saw more than 140 solo competitors and 16 bands compete in piping, snare and tenor drumming.

Playing the snare drum has already given Bentley the opportunity to travel all over the world. “With other instruments, you go to practice and then you go home,” she said. “With drumming, there are competitions, workshops and bands all over the world learning, performing and competing.”

“It’s more of a sport than an instrument, really,” she said.

She said that when she goes back home she’ll go with a new understanding of drumming, which she will take to her community and pass on to help people achieve what she’s achieved.

There is a lot of travel ahead of her this summer, as the SFU Pipe Band will participate in several competitions throughout B.C. this season. They will also be going to the British Championships in Paisley, Scotland, and the World Championships in Glasgow later in the summer.

Another aspect of the Annual Gathering’s international appeal are the judges. This year they were brought in from Scotland and New Zealand, and Bentley said a large part of why people are willing to travel so far to attend B.C.’s event is because of the quality of the judging.

“They provide the best quality judging you can get, which you need to improve,” she said.

Some of the competitors had to travel a significantly smaller distance to make it to Clayton Heights Secondary School for the competition.

John Lee, 25, is an top-level piper who lives in Clayton Heights and attended CHS when he was in high school.

He’s played the bagpipes since he was six years old.

For Lee, piping runs in the family. His dad and uncle were leaders of the SFU Pipe Band and were founding members of the Robert Malcom Memorial Pipe Band. Lee started in the RMM introduction to music class and then worked his way through the organization.

“I have probably been to every Annual Gathering since I was born,” said Lee. “I can’t remember the last time I was there and didn’t compete.”

Lee has played the piano, saxophone and snare drum in the past, but stuck with the bagpipes because of his family. “There was always piping around me from a very young age,” he said.

Lee attributes his success to two things: a lot of practice and his family’s influence.

“Whether it was listening to my dad practice in the basement or going to a SFU Pipe Band practice, I was exposed to high quality music,” he said.

Although he is a top-level piper who has attended the Annual Gathering since he can remember, he didn’t go into the weekend expecting an easy win.

“The competition in B.C. is very tough so you can't go in expecting to get a prize,” said Lee.

“There are some of the best solo competitors and pipe bands in the world at this competition,” he said.

Clayton Heights Secondary was packed during the competition. Several rooms in the school, including the auditorium and the cafeteria, were used by the competitors and the audience for the event. On top of more than 140 separate competitions, there were performance band workshops, jam sessions and interactive demonstrations.

The entire event was livestreamed and is available to watch at https://livestream.com/bcpipers/AnnualGathering2017/videos/154376126.

The SFU Pipe Band took first place in the Grade 1 competition on Saturday and the Robert Malcom Memorial Pipe Band took third in the Grade 2 competition.

For more results and more on the B.C. Pipers' Association, visit http://www.bcpipers.org/.


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