In 2010, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo recognized a greater need to educate and engage young people about their Celtic roots. The result was the creation of the Youth Pipes and Drums initiative.

“It was initiated some time ago,” says Jennie King, Managing Director of the Tattoo. “Its sole purpose was, and remains, to preserve and promote Celtic music as an art form. So, we started this program as a hands-on way to teach young people to learn and play traditional instruments.”

King joined the Tattoo team in 2016 after a six year stint at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. She now oversees all projects within the annual event, including Youth Pipes and Drums – a free program, supported entirely by donations from the community. It is open to young people, aged 7 – 17, in four locations across the province; Halifax, the Annapolis Valley, Sydney, and in the Chester Basin.

“It may have begun as something quite small, but this year we have upwards of 60 kids involved. This is the first year that we will have our Youth Pipes and Drums actually performing in the Tattoo. About a dozen of them will be taking the stage. They range in ages and skill level, and the group’s director, Wayne Moug, will be responsible for preparing them for those debut performances. We are excited to get them out on the floor, and we intend on making a special introduction to our audiences. These kids have worked really hard, and they deserve the applause.

“We are always evolving, and with that growth comes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”

“Over the past twelve months, we added instructors in the Valley and in Chester. The program in Sydney is taking more kids all of the time. And in Halifax, if you cruise by the Armoury site on any given Thursday night, you can enjoy a sweet serenade of the music of our forbearers.”

Along with cultural preservation, King notes that self-esteem building and learning to work in a team environment are among the biggest benefits of being involved.

“Anything that builds their confidence, and gets them interacting with like-minded people is extremely important. These kids get together once a week and create music together, and make life-long friendships and memories. It is our hope that they stick with it for the rest of their lives. The thought that we played a little role in that is really rewarding.”

While the return might be obvious, the program is not without challenges.

“It is financed strictly through the Tattoo, but we rely on the support of our donors. This year is a particularly challenging; we have all of these kids who are ready to play, but to get them kilted and in uniform can be quite costly. We don’t receive any government funding or grants, so that is an expense that we have to deal with each year. If we can get more people excited about the program, however, the money will surely come.”

King believes programs like Youth Pipes and Drums are instrumental in keeping Celtic culture alive and well, both at home and abroad.

“Within the Tattoo itself we recognize that we have more work to do. Every year we conduct an annual survey – and the Celtic connection is certainly alive and well – but as we trickle down through the generations, it is important that we continue to celebrate our shared history and heritage. More than ever, our role is to get out in front of kids when they are young, and give them a little taste of that culture, so that it becomes something that they will better appreciate as they grow older.

“These are the people who will keep these traditions alive. If we do this for them, hopefully they will do it for their kids, and so forth, passing it along to the future generations. Our mission is to reinvigorate the pipes and drums – the music and instruments of our ancestors – to ensure their longevity, and to guarantee that they remain an important component of our culture for years to come.”