Pipe band marches into national elite

CHRIS CHILTON
Last updated 13:17 19/04/2013
Southland Times photo
NICOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ
ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band's Scottish connection, the band leader, pipe major Alasdair Mackenzie, left, and drum sergeant Scott Burrell.

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Southland's premier pipe band's promotion to grade one is being hailed as a Super Rugby-style win for Invercargill and the province.

The ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band won the grade two competition for the second time in three years at the national pipe band championships in Timaru last month. Its consistent top results led to the band's promotion.

Allister Macgregor, chairman of the Southland Piping and Drumming Development Trust, likens the promotion to Invercargill having its own Super Rugby franchise. "There were only four grade one bands in New Zealand, now there are five. It means the South Island now has two grade one bands, much like rugby with the Crusaders and Highlanders."

The development trust was formed five years ago when piping and drumming in the province was in decline. One of its primary aims was to have a Southland pipe band competing at the elite level.

Macgregor says the trust needs a figurehead pipe band to showcase its emerging talent for its youth development programmes, and to attract more youth, "so we invested in the ILT City of Invercargill Pipe Band, which has turned out to be a very wise move indeed.

"The band not only now has got national brand recognition, it has started to get international brand recognition, such is the quality and style of music they play.

"It will be great for Invercargill city and for our Southland region as it will help promote it and attract people here."

A key plank of the trust's strategy when it was formed in 2008 was appointing world-class Scottish musicians to teach young Southlanders the finer arts of piping and drumming.

Drummer Scott Birrell has been an honorary Southlander for five years and piper Alasdair Mackenzie has been here four. They spend most of the year in Southland as itinerant pipe band music teachers playing with the ILT City of Invercargill band before flying back to Scotland for five weeks for their world championship band commitments in the northern hemisphere.

Both agree the promotion is huge for Southland.

"It's the first time the ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band has had the opportunity to perform at the highest level in grade one," Birrell says.

"It is extremely well deserved. There is a large commitment involved to perform at such a high level and all the players deserve massive recognition for this. If it weren't for the players giving 100 per cent we wouldn't be where we are musically."

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Band leader Mackenzie says the band's attitude was just right in Timaru, in what turned out to be a landmark trip.

"If you don't have the right attitude you'll go nowhere, and neither will your team."

The promotion is the culmination of four years' hard work, he says.

"We have a good, solid young core at the moment that are hungry for success. As pipe major, I was very proud of the whole team. The whole trip was great fun - everyone had the right attitude. It was the best band trip I've ever been on."

The New Zealand pipe band season begins in September and runs through to the national championships, usually at the start of March.

Competing at the elite level will require the band to travel more as many of the competitions are in the North Island, Birrell says.

The City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band has four competing bands, including its juvenile (under-18) band, with each having 25 to 30 members.

Birrell praises the band's "fantastic" organising committee, for ensuring the logistics of moving so many people is always stress- free.

Macgregor says the trust has worked hard to change the pipe band culture in Southland.

"Pipe bands are not old men's drinking clubs any more. They are focused on youth, a family culture, up-tempo music with variety, which is fun to play and has a broad appeal."

Mackenzie says the average age of the pipe corps is 22, with only one piper over the age of 30.

"It's always important to have a good mix in the team. Aaron Copeland is a rock in the band, and has that valuable experience to help the young ones coming through.

"The younger ones have the drive and ability to keep kicking on, which is crucial to the success of the band long term."

Macgregor, Mackenzie and Birrell are all thankful for the community support the band receives from of the ILT Foundation, the Invercargill Licensing Trust and the Community Trust of Southland.

The next step is to win grade one, Mackenzie says.

- The Southland Times

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