The 78th Pipers and Drummers at the Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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The 78th Highland Regiment Pipers and Drummers joyfully sustain the traditions of the Celtic people. Accomplished musicians all, they have spent years in training and generations in the celebration of their unique gifts. By way of introduction, the piper to the left with his back turned to you and his handy dirk sheathed on his right, leads this quintet. He began his formal training in his junior high school and then his high school’s pipe and drum band. As a college student, he continues to learn from a master at the Citadel’s School of Piping and Drumming. By the way, if you are inclined to take up the bagpipes as your life’s ambition, you may receive instruction from the Citadel’s pipe master anywhere in the world through the medium of Skype. The quintet’s lead piper himself has one student. You could become his second.

Each of the two pipers facing you in the photo has a brother drumming in this quintet. Can you tell from the picture, who is related to whom? The piper standing before the window has three stripes on his right cuff. In the original 78th Highlanders, they would indicate three years of good behavior. Today, they indicate three years of prior service as a re-enactor. So you see the quintet exhibits family traditions, years of training and sustained service.

After a performance for the Citadel’s visitors, this same piper revealed some of the secrets of the modern bagpipe. The tartan cover hides a leather bag. The modern version of the bag features a zipper and a small cardboard box containing the equivalent of moisture-absorbing, “kitty-litter.” The pipers explained that these “pipes” were made of wood, rather than ivory or plastic. The three upright “drone” pipes accompany the smaller “chanter.” The piper’s fingers play this nine note source of melody. The longer, French version of the bagpipe “chanter” extends its range of notes and chords.

The quintet members explained that the original Highland Drummers were recruited as regular soldiers. A drummer wears the red doublet with the white leather belt across his chest. The pipers were recruited by and paid by the officers, who had much more money to spend. Pipers wear the green doublet, a polished, black leather belt and have far more brass buttons than the Redcoats. Notice that a long plaid wraps about the piper’s chest, under the right arm. A brooch joins the plaid on the left shoulder. The ends of the plaid hang down well beyond the hem of the kilt. The drummers have a smaller tartan suspended from their left shoulder. The 78th wears the Mackenzie tartan in honor of its original sponsor.

Pipes and drums function not merely for parades, morale and time keeping at the Citadel. They were used to coordinate the regimental maneuvers during battle. The 78th designates one bagpipe melody as its signal to charge. The drummers also convey battlefield orders. They have a back-up system should the drum malfunction. Notice that a bugle hangs on a green lanyard slung across the drummer’s left shoulder. Each drummer carries a sword on his right side.

Attention to detail, constant practice, a profound devotion to Celtic music and traditions make the full corps of the 78th Pipers and Drummers contenders in the world championships for pipe and drum bands held in Scotland. The leader of the quintet reported that every small town in Scotland has several pipe and drum corps. Nevertheless, the Citadel’s contingent has confidently traveled to the world competition. They have my enthusiastic encouragement.

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