2020*. We began this year with similar intent as the previous, with plans to hit the regional competition circuit and make a trek to Maxville, Canada for a second run at the North American Championships. We had fresh music being polished into a new tune book, innovative drums on the way, and some uniform changes in motion**. Weekly general band rehearsals, a student night, and multiple competition band rehearsals each month.
The pandemic came upon us as we ramped into St. Paddy’s Day. Our substantial list of gigs for the week’s festivities started to thin as events buckled. From the few that held on, we got our first glimpse of the stillness to come. The memory of our last gig is permanently etched into my mind, with the awareness of the approaching “unprecedented and uncertain times” on all our faces. With that, we shuttered everything and entered shutdown mode.
After the fog cleared, we got down to business and took to Zoom*** to begin the great experiment of the year. Luckily, the types of personalities pipe bands attract are ones of curiosity and exploration. Weekly rehearsals for general band, students, and competition groups, as well as a more casual Thirsty Thursdays. Sound checks, green screens, and hot mics for all. It was not a replacement for face to face, but the band was still living and breathing, and cultivating the obsession for the music.
In preparation for penning this, past year summaries were reviewed, and it is quite a step back into a different reality than what this year has created. The past challenges we tackled as a band fade in comparison to the sheer weight of the year. The disruption has created the need for an asterisk in the records of anything for this year. Concerts, festivals, sports, competitions, no gatherings left untouched. What do we, who play the great gathering instrument, do while stuck in a virtual world? Through this virtual portal we all found ourselves in, we have witnessed many fellow bands lose steam.
Some have gone into hibernation, and sadly some have folded all together. Logistics have taken hold of some I am sure, but many are victim to a lack of motivation on the calendar, with no competitions, concerts, or anything else concrete with which to apply themselves. This is where we are fortunate to be stuck in the middle of the dichotomy of pipe bands. To service bands, we are a competition band, and to competition bands, we are a service band. Our foundation makes us both. Our mission is of service, and so we compete. Our mission is of competition, so we serve.
In the interest of competition, we organized our first virtual mini-band contest, and had a wonderful time doing it. And as I write this, a video of a contingent of the band performing The Little Drummer Boy on parade has gone…well, viral (it might be overdue to find a new term there).
Maybe it is also time to take hold of the opportunity to adjust more than just our vocabulary. It is our nature to measure commitment with physical presence attendance. Show up, stand here, know the music, wear the right socks. In a year where this is not possible, it has shown through that the choice of being committed, of being a band, is a frame of mind, unaltered by any outside force.
So here we are. Competition or not. Parades or not. Pub gigs or not. Festivities or not. We will be Band Ready*****
— Dalton Marshall
* Year of the Asterisk
**No, not yellow flashes
***Zoom was bestowed the title of Member of the Year at our annual awards
****Unless you want us to play Cullen Bay or Cajun Grace again