It was a case of ‘better-late-than-never’ for New Brunswick piper Melanie Laird.
What are your own roots?
My father is from the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland (family names Laird, Thomson, Sinclair), so Celt and likely Norse. My Mum is a Beckett and a Machum, so English and Irish and Loyalist all mixed in. I’m first generation Canadian on my Dad’s side and 5th generation Canadian on my Mum’s side, and my favourite nickname is the Orcadian Canadian!
How long have you been piping?
I started on chanter at the tender age of 37 in September 2009 and first competed with the Fredericton Society of Saint Andrew Pipe Band (Grade 5) in 2011 – so a total of 5 years so far, including 4 years on pipes.
What inspired you to start?
First I was taking Gaelic classes with Helen Morag McKinnon which included a lot of singing and some of the songs we learned were pipe tunes. And then, as a long time volunteer with the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival, I’d hear the same tunes on pipes! It was very cool. I began to love pipe music and was getting to know people in the band. It was a tough choice, but I finally chose pipes over drums.
Are they the same reasons you continue to pipe today?
Yes, I love the challenge of playing and competing with the band, and it is so rewarding to learn new technique, new time signatures (strathspeys, jigs, reels), and being a team player.
What kind of pipes do you play?
After learning to play on a wretched plastic set belonging to the band (a rite of passage?), I bought 2011 McCallums and I love them!! The drones are magnificent and I’m striving to become worthy of them.
Are you a traditional piper in terms of style & sound?
Hmm, I suppose. At the Piping and Drumming Academy we learn the basics, and we compete under the Atlantic Canada Pipe Band Association which follows Canadian and Scottish standards. I make the usual crossing noises and have the usual blowing issues as most beginner pipers!
Who were your piping influences, and what are you listening to now from that genre?
We are taught and mentored by our Grade 2 band, and my main instructors have been Sandy Gordon, Tom Munroe, Gord Perry, Michel Boyer and several of the grade 2 pipers and drummers. I’m currently listening to At Long Last, the new recording from The College of Piping in Summerside, PEI.
What is the piping scene like in your part of the world?
There are 4 civilian bands in the Fredericton area plus the military bands in nearby CFB Gagetown. Fredericton is definitely a hot spot for piping. Across the Maritimes there are 4 larger highland games and a few smaller games and other contests. Not as active as it once was, but still lots going on.
How are you involved with the piping community there?
Besides playing with my band, becoming a piper is peppered with firsts: the first wedding I played; the first funeral; the first curling bonspiel. But the coolest piping gig to date has been playing a bagpiping devil in a Tam O’Shanter parody in an outdoor theatre festival – nothing like wearing horns and hiding behind a tree waiting to jump out and play a jig for the dancing actors.
What are your piping plans for the months and years ahead?
Our band is going to work on a new March Medley for the 2015 competition season. Besides the band, I hope to maybe start learning piobaireachd this year.
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