Armidale Pipe Band

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With a proud history that extends back 117 years, the Armidale Pipe Band is a regular sight at parades, festivals and special events throughout New England. President and Drum Sergeant Lance McNamara explains some exciting new changes set to take place for the band, which includes attracting more young people to its already strong membership cohort …

Please give us a brief rundown on the history behind Armidale Pipe Band.

The Armidale Pipe Band was first established by the then Armidale Caledonian Society in 1901. It comprised around six pipers and one drummer. The band played for the early Highland Gatherings that were held by the Caledonian Society, and out of those early playouts a small group of dedicated individuals emerged as the first Armidale Pipe Band. 

Over the years the band has gone into recess several times, but has always come back stronger. Today, we can boast being one of the largest pipe bands in New England and the North West.

What’s your personal role with the band?

My role with the band is twofold. I am the current President of the band, as it is an incorporated association, and in addition I also fulfil the role of Drum Sergeant. As the “leading drummer”, I am responsible for overseeing the percussive and ensemble elements of the band’s repertoire.

I tutor members of the drum corps on a weekly basis, and I work closely with the Pipe Major (Craig Ritchie) and the Lead Tenor Drummer (Loren McNamara) on musical selection ensemble and expression. 

I first joined the band in 1995 and have come and gone from the band due to work several times. I returned to Armidale with my wife after a ten year absence and was keen to get back involved with the band as soon as possible.

Tell us a bit about your membership cohort … roughly how many members do you have, and what is the age range of players?

The band can boast a robust membership of more than 30 full-time and associate members. We have several life members who have served the band for extended periods of time, and our membership ranges in age from 12 to 80+. Our members are wonderful people, each with their own character and value. We genuinely enjoy spending time with each other as a band.

What do you see as being the role of the Armidale Pipe Band within the community?

Armidale Pipe Band has an important role in the community. Not only do we turn out for civic and ceremonial events such as ANZAC Day and Armistice Day etc.; we also play at festivals and parades around the area. We both entertain and contribute to the vibrancy of Armidale and its community. We strive to preserve, promote and perform traditional Scottish and Irish music, in addition to actively promoting the music and culture of Armidale’s Celtic community.

What tuition do you offer for both aspiring pipers and drummers?

The band offers tuition in both piping and drumming and at very minimal cost to the learner. Whilst learner drummers and pipers are expected to purchase some simple equipment, such as practice chanters or drum sticks and practice pads, there isn’t a lot of additional cost involved. 

Our tutors are experienced individuals who are always looking to take on new students. In time and once a student has graduated from practice pad or chanter to pipes or drums, they can expect to be part of a busy yet enjoyable community band that plays throughout the New England region and further afield.

The band is undergoing a few changes at the moment, including the supply of new uniforms and establishing a greater online presence. What other exciting changes are in the pipeline?

In addition to modernising our uniform and building an online presence, the band is concentrating on attracting more young people to its ranks. Pipe bands internationally are experiencing something of a revival, with the average age of pipers and drummers in overseas bands being around 18 – 25. We are hoping to bring younger people on board, and in turn look to opportunities and experiences that would both benefit and provide enjoyable experiences for our members. 

We are hoping to begin working towards greater collaboration with other local music organisations and if/when the opportunity arises, take the band further afield to play at events outside our region. 

Why would you encourage new members to join the band … and what equipment is supplied?

I would encourage anyone who is interested in or curious about pipe bands to come and see for themselves. You will receive a warm welcome. Pipe bands are about community. We are family friendly and most importantly, we are not just people with a Scottish or Irish background. We welcome anyone who is willing to commit to learning an instrument, would like to experience something a little different and would like to make a few friends and experience something new along the way. 

We supply our members with uniforms and instruments. We are supportive and really want to encourage people to jump in and have a go.

What upcoming functions are planned for the band?

The band will be appearing at the St Mary’s School fete on the 27th October, as well as running a drumming workshop for children. We have a special event coming up on Armistice Day, 11/11/18, at 5pm in Central Park. 

The band will join in commemoration of the end of WWI by playing a selection of traditional music and playing for the for the first time a restored set of snare, tenor and bass drums that have not been played in 70 years. Some of these drums would have been played in 1914, when local men and women from the district were leaving for the First World War. We now have the opportunity to commemorate the service and sacrifice of those men and women by reviving a very rare and important collection of instruments. 

Other band events are posted on our website at armidalepipeband.com

Where/when do you regularly meet … and whom can readers contact to find out more info?

The band meets regularly on Monday nights, from 6:30pm at the Armidale High School Hall. You can find out more about us on our new website: armidalepipeband.com

Thanks Lance.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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