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Scottish marching band engaged in recruitment drive

by Jeff Green

The Belfast Pipe and Drum Band during the 2004 Gold Cup & Saucer parade.One of Prince Edward Island’s hardest working—and cherished—bands is in the midst of a “big time” recruitment drive this fall, trying to attract new musicians while planning for another busy performance season. The Belfast Pipe and Drum Band, which was initially formed in the early 1970s and went through several reincarnations, regrouped three years with new members. Now, under new management and with new energy and a growing repertoire of music, the band is trying to branch out, increase its size and participate in more competitions and events. In fact, the group, which is the only adult pipe and drum band in the province, is coming off one of its busiest summers ever. Members played at festivals and private events all over PEI and are now practising at weekly meetings and getting eager to start performing again.

“We’re now in recruitment stage,” says band manager Janet Cox. “We desperately need drummers. They're hard to get. We had a few really good ones leave in the past year. This year we're also hoping to take in four or five new pipers, too.”

The roots of the Belfast Band stretch back more than three decades to 1973 when it was primarily made up of school students. That original group broke up several years later. Some musicians tried to re-establish the ensemble in 1990 but it faded again. Three years ago, several female pipers breathed new life into the respected troupe. As it turns out, third time was lucky, says Cox.

“A group of us got together and we started talking about getting a band going,” she says. “We just started to dream basically. We played a few tunes at this event. There were about six players then. Since then we’ve grown to include about 22 or 23 players.”

Cox says one of the attractions for her to joining the band was a chance to play with pipers from all over the province. The group is made up of members from Belfast to western PEI. It’s also one of the most dynamic groups with members ranging in age from 18 to 70.

Drummers and pipers have to be able to play their music by memory since they can't carry music sheets. “You have to know your tunes by heart,” adds Cox with a smile. “That’s the hardest part.” So far the group can play about 30 tunes but they’re hoping to expand that list this year.

The biggest challenge, however, for the band is trying to cover travel expenses, instruments and uniforms, says veteran drummer David Doyle. Pipes can cost anywhere from $1,500-$9,000, while drums range from $200-$1,000. Uniforms are about $1,500 apiece.

“We’re basically non-profit and all volunteers,” says Doyle. “So members pay their way. We do get paid but it goes right back into the band. If the event has a commercial overtone we insist on getting paid. But if the legion or veterans ask us we don’t charge them.”

Doyle thinks the current group will have much more longevity than its predecessors. “It’s a hobby, a pleasure and a job for us,” he insists. “Once you’re committed to this you’re committed all the way. It’s hard on our members and their families but god love them so far. I think they’re in it for the long run.”

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