By Madison Stapels
In spectacular uniform and traditional kilts, the performers take the stage to evoke the same awe-inspiring power that has enraptured audiences for hundreds of years. Audiences will feel shockwaves as the musicians, drummers, and buglers play with feverish intensity the powerful music that inspired a nation and brought others to their knees in battle. Bill Collins is a local bagpiper, hear what he has to stay about the prestige, tradition and history of The Band of the Royal Marines with the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards.
No one else does tradition like the regiments of the British military. No one else plays out the traditions of piping and drumming and martial music like the British regimental bands. The bands of the Royal Marines and the Scots Guards bring those traditions to the Wharton Center in grand style January 30.
The military band traditions harken back to a time when drummers and buglers signaled troop movements. The brass and woodwind band traces its origins across Europe and back to Ottoman times. The bagpipes famously led Scottish clan warriors into battle. In fact, the Highland bagpipe carries the distinction of being the only musical instrument ever outlawed as an “instrument of war”, when the British army fought against rebellions in the Scottish Highlands. The Scots have long since become part of the army they fought against, and their traditions of piping and dancing are carried on in the Highland Regiments and the Scots Guards.
Together, the two bands are part of a common thread joining those centuries-old traditions with modern military bands, high school and college marching bands; drum corps, local pipe and drum bands, and today’s competitive Highland dancing. These familiar elements of marching and music will all be on display in some form in Saturday’s concert.
Look for colorful uniforms and crisp drill routines, along with inspiring military band music. The Royal Marines are distinguished by dark blue uniforms trimmed in red, with bright white pith helmets. The pipers of the Scots Guards are turned out in red Royal Stewart tartan kilts with blue doublet jackets and tall feather bonnets, the drummers in bearskin hats. (Though in modern times, the bearskins are artificial.) The uniforms are steeped in the traditions of centuries ago, meant for an imposing display in battlefield lines. Every detail is significant of an historic event or a regimental honor, from the tartan patterns, to the trim on the tunics, to the crested buttons. The drums display the historic battle honors in which the regiments distinguished themselves.
The regimental bands perform a broad repertoire. The full band of the Royal Marines is comprised of traditional brass and woodwind band instruments, with the drum section at the fore. They perform military marches, of course, but also selections of popular and classical music. In addition, smaller ensembles within the band may perform almost any kind of music, from classical to rock and jazz, depending on the occasion. The pipes and drums of the Scots Guards perform Scottish and Irish tunes taken from the full 500 year history of the Highland bagpipe, from ancient piobairechd tunes to familiar pipe band marches and dancing tunes, as well as modern compositions. During a concert, each band performs some selections separately, but when the bands combine, the full effect of brass and pipes and drums together is breathtaking!
The Scots Guards also bring along the tradition of Highland dancing in the regiments. The oldest traditional dances were performed before and after clansmen went into battle. The warriors would dance around their swords or on their shields and the movements would signify skill and bravery. Later, in the 1700s, Highland dance would be influenced by ballet forms as the Scots allied with the French. Dance steps would become standardized when the British army incorporated the Highland regiments and dancing became part of the required training, which it still is for band members today.
The earliest regimental bands within the British army date back 1749, and private musicians hired by regimental commanders date well before that. The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines was officially formed in 1767. The six component bands comprise the only musical wing still serving in the British navy. The tradition of piping and drumming in the Scots Guards dates back to the founding of the regiment by the Marquis of Argyll in 1642. Today, the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards are one of 17 regimental pipe bands still active. It should be noted that although it has a similar pipe band tradition, the Scots Guards are not a Highland regiment (such as the Black Watch), but one of the Foot Regiments of the Household Division (along with the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Irish Guards, and the Welsh Guards). All of these band members today are active-duty soldiers and sailors, and the ranks now include women. Duty in a regimental band is generally a full-time assignment, but their regular military training and support roles are called upon when events warrant. Most recently, band members of the Royal Marines served aboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship ARGUS in a support role during the Ebola crisis. The Scots Guards are still deployed in Afghanistan today, working on counterinsurgency and Afghan police training.
Familiar school and community wind ensembles and marching bands all owe some debt to the history of the military band. There are also civilian pipe bands and Highland dance organizations throughout the world carrying on the traditions began in the regiments. Here in Lansing, you can follow:
The Glen Erin Pipe Band (www.glenerinpipeband.com)
The Gibson School of Highland Dance (www.gibsonhighlanddance.com)
126 Army Band (Michigan National Guard) (www.126armyband.com)
Bill Collins has been a bagpiper in the Lansing area for 25 years and is Pipe Major and Music Director of the Glen Erin Pipe Band of Lansing. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Band of the Royal Marines with the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guard come to Wharton Center for one night only on Saturday, January 30. Don’t miss out on this spectacular event and buy your tickets now! Student tickets can be purchased for $15 with an MSU ID here.