OCdts. On Parade

E3161 Victoria Edwards interviewed the RMC Pipe Major, WO Daniel Smith.

e-veritas: How did you become a piper?

WO Daniel Smith: My dad performed with the Brass and Reed band of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) in Montreal. I performed with a band of the 588 Canadair Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron. I actually learned to play the bagpipes as a member of a civilian children`s band and later played the pipes with the #2862 Royal Montreal Regiment Cadet Corps in Westmount, QC.

When I served from 1976-1983 with the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment I was a piper as a secondary duty. During a year long Pipe Major course at the Canadian Forces Music Centre Detachment Borden, I was taught how to give basic drill, oversee small leadership taskings, prepare and give lectures, small group music instruction, taking the lead at a performance, and tuning. The training covered the pipes, how they are made, hide and synthetic bags, care, tuning, chanter and drones and the reeds, general maintenance, proper dress – kilt, headdress etc., how to practise, setting up pipe corps, psychology of performing, and teaching methods. The training includes weeks of practice and instruction time in various marches which is then followed by the playing test at the end. I returned to my unit as a Pipe Major.

e-veritas: What is the mission of the RMC pipes and drums (P&Ds) and Highland Dancers (HLDs)?

WO Daniel Smith: The primary mission of P&Ds and HLDs is to field a performing band capable of providing highland musical support as well as the activities of the larger Royal Military College community (alumni and parents clubs), both on and off the College grounds. In addition to providing a performing band, the P&Ds and HLDs provide interested students with musical instruction in bag piping, highland drumming (snare, tenor and bass), and highland dancing. The P&Ds and HLDs support both the Colleges` public relations and recruiting efforts. This support will be in the form of performances by either the full band, portions thereof, drum fanfare/salute, or solo bagpipers.

e-veritas: You served at RMC from 1995-1998, and from 2008-2010 as Pipe Major. Any highlights?

WO Daniel Smith: I am responsible for the Pipes and Drums (P&Ds) and a highland dancer corps (HLDs). Pipe Major and Drum Sergeant are senior leadership positions in a band. At present, the RMC band has either a Pipe Major or Drum Sergeant. When I was posted to RMC, I replaced a Drum Major. In the fall of 2010, I will be replaced by Drum Major, WO Gene Heather. I also take on a support role in the band, helping with administration and other organisational tasks. As a Pipe Major, I am responsible to teach music and ensure proper drill and discipline of the pipe corps as well as tuning the pipes and commanding the corps on parade. Quality piping is based on tuning, timing (including tempo and breaks between tunes), execution and expression. Solid drumming is based on roll, tone, tempo, execution, rhythm, expansion, quality, variety and blend. With dancing, you look for the precision and timing of the steps in conjunction with the required arm and leg movements. The dance should appear relaxed and in control of all movements. One of the greatest challenges is to tune the P&Ds under a variety of conditions.

The RMC band has produced a few recordings over the years. My highlights include participating in two of the RMC band CDs in 1996 and 8.

e-veritas: How do you recruit new members of the P&Ds and HLDs?

WO Daniel Smith: The P&Ds rely on musicians who are keen to make a real musical contribution to the ensemble. Every fall, I hold auditions for the P&Ds. I have been fortunate to pick up a couple cadets each year who gained musical training and experience through cadets, a civilian pipe band or a highland dance troupe. It helps if the cadets have a background in sight reading music, percussion or another form of dance such as ballet, tap, jazz or folk. Some beginners pick up the pipes, drums (snare, tenor or bass), or highland dance from scratch. At present, all of the P&Ds and HLDs are cadets although we are open to graduate students, faculty and alumni.

e-veritas: Who delivers the musical instruction?

WO Daniel Smith: The military training and supervision at the RMC band is delivered by staff instructors and cadets. MWO Martin Huppé is the RMC Band Officer and I am the Pipe Major. There are occasional music clinics, such as the one United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.  The pace is quick since the more experienced pipers, drummers, and highland dancers will learn 6-7 songs/dances per year. As with all music and indeed soldiering ‘team work’ is crucial.

e-veritas: You have said that RMC is the perfect place to learn the pipes.

WO Daniel Smith: (laughs) Yes. The cadets are hard workers and with time, patience, and a little investment, they can learn the pipes. Reading bagpipe music is fairly easy and the basic fingering is relatively simple. There are no chords to worry about since the bagpipe chanter only sounds one note at a time. Only 9 notes are commonly played.

Now all you have to do is pick a few notes (and perhaps a scale or two) and practice playing them. Set aside a specific time every day, whether it’s ten minutes or two hours, to practice. Try to pick simple songs first, then more complex marches, jigs, reels, etc. Some people are very “visual” learners, who like to watch other people play. I and other pipers who can advise as to proper posture, wrist position, fingering techniques, tuning, and bagpipe maintenance are nearby. At RMC, the instruction is given face-to-face, for free. Shy and inexperienced pipers can always practice in the band sound booths. Alternatively, you can walk around a remote location of the campus, and/or learn to dodge the occasional object thrown at you.

e-veritas: What teaching resources do you recommend?

WO Daniel Smith: During morning practices in the Yeo Hall basement, the learners tend to play in one area by themselves. The highland dancers practice in the new gym, mess and snakepit. We practice drill movements outside when the weather is good or in the new gym. We don’t try to teach a standard way of doing things. We expect the cadets to think for themselves, be creative, and develop their own individual approach to music-making. I provide a beginners guide and advanced piper books. In addition, the cadets tend to swap DVDs e.g.  “Comprehensive Beginners Guide DVD” by Pipe Major Bill Robertson to learn basic fingering techniques, or bagpipe and chanter maintenance. The cadets also swap books like “The Complete Pipers Handbook” by Pipe Major Brett Tidswell. Throughout the year band members may attend various piping seminars, and workshops for technique to improve rhythm, clarity and develop good expression. The Scottish Official Highland Dancing Association have published a textbook and a selection of leaflets on Highland & National Dances. During summer OJT, some RMC band members practice, perform and even compete in the Nova Scotia tattoo or highland games with base bands, e.g. CFB Shearwater. Cadets who perform with other bands during OJT often return with e-mail sound files, videos and suggestions for new tunes.

e-veritas: How do the RMC Pipes and Drums interact with foreign military colleges that have Pipes and Drums?

WO Daniel Smith: In the United States, the active duty pipe bands include: the U.S. Naval Academy Pipes and Drums in Annapolis; the Pipes and Drums of the Corps of Cadets at West Point. The United States Military Academy -Royal Military College exchange weekend is held annually in February and the Annual West Point Tattoo is held in April. When USMA dancers get together in a music clinic, they’ll bring in instructors to WestPoint to complement the cadet instructors. When RMC holds a pipe band clinic, we rely on the cadet and staff instructors and rarely bring anyone in.

e-veritas: Do you recall any band skylarks at RMC?

WO Daniel Smith: Several. The band members tend to be highly spirited and enjoy a sense of fun. During the gash parade, Ocdt Babcock dressed like Sir William Wallace a Scottish knight of Elderslie, who led a resistance during the Wars of Scottish Independence. At one point, the fourth year piper yelled freedom (from English tyranny).

e-veritas: Do any notable guest performers come to mind?

WO Daniel Smith: Yes. H4860 Gen (Ret’d) John de Chastelain (RMC 1960), RMC Commandant 1995-8 performed on the pipers at a band mess dinner. 12192 MGen Tom Lawson (RMC 1979), RMC Commandant 2007-9 piped in Xmas dinner in 2009.

e-veritas: Why should cadets join the band?

WO Daniel Smith: The musical training at the Royal Military College of Canada is not only excellent in preparing you for your career in the Canadian Forces and developing as your career progresses. It is enjoyable and friends can be made for life. The opportunity to perform in various public performances, shows, and parades is seen as key in supporting the troops at all levels. The band members have the aspiration to travel within and outside Kingston and perform for the troops and the public, raising moral and helping to inject a break into the routine of operations.

e-veritas: Who is welcome to join the P&Ds?

WO Daniel Smith: We welcome anyone who is interested in joining us either on one of our drums (snare, tenor or bass) or the highland pipes. We also have an highland dance group as an outgrowth of the band that is represented by a collection of traditional Irish instruments such as the tin whistle, violin, Irish flute. There is no experience needed to join the band, only a love for music.

e-veritas: Do you have any advice?

WO Daniel Smith: I would like to remind potential cadets to include their musical or dance experience in their resumes since the experience counts for a couple points. I encourage students, staff and alumni to enjoy the performances of the RMC bands whether live, or via recording on album, CD or You tube.  I encourage RMC band alumni to continue to practice, perform and compete with local military and civilian bands.

e-veritas: What music is in the RMC P&Ds repetoire?

WO Daniel Smith: The music in the P&Ds repertoire varies. The P&Ds picked up “Steam Train to Mallaig”, with 4-5 part harmony, in 2010. When I returned to the College in 2008, I was surprised to discover that the official RMC march bagpipes “Alexander Mackenzie,” hadn`t been played in a while.

4/4 Marches: “Scotland the Brave”/”Rowan Tree”; “Wings” (Engineer March); “Highland Cathedral”; “Marine Corps Hymn”; “Crags of Tubbledown Mountain”; “Boy/Wearing of the Green”

3/4 Marches: “When the Battle’s O’er”; “Green Hills of Tyrol”

2/4 Marches: “High Road to Gairloch/Barren Rocks; Itchy Fingers”

6/8 Marches: “Atholl Highlanders of Bonnie Dundee”

6/8 Jigs: “Rocking the Baby”

Hymn: “Amazing Grace”

e-veritas: What dances are in the RMC HLDs repetoire?

WO Daniel Smith: The HLDs perform a combination of Highland and Scottish step dances.  For the National dances a national costume or costume appropriate to the dance is worn. The National dance, “Wilt Thou Go to the Barracks, Johnny?” is a recruiting song for the Scottish Army. The National dance of Scotland “Hielan Laddie” by Ewan MacLachlan is balletic. The Irish jig, in which dancers wear skirt, bodice, petticoat, blouse, and a white apron, portrays a washerwoman mad at her husband. The “Flora McDonald’s Fancy”, in which the dancers wear long white dresses honours Flora McDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from North Uist to Skye disguised as her maid. The “Sailor`s hornpipe”, in which the dancers wear sailor outfits, portrays sailors pulling ropes, climbing the rigging, and looking out to sea. The “Highland Fling” and the “Highland Sword Dance” (Ghillie Calum) are Highland victory dances. The “Argyle Broadswords” is a step dance for four people dancing round/over a cross formed from their four swords. Other dances in the HRDs repetoire include the “Scottish Lilt” and “Chantreuse”. Highland or Scottish jigs or reels are suitable for dance performance and social dancing (with a caller) at weddings and ceilidhs.

e-veritas: I understand that the P&Ds or individual pipers will perform tunes for special events such as Remembrance Day, St. Patrick`s Day, Robbie Burns Day, weddings, ceilidh, head tables, funerals, etc.

WO Daniel Smith: Certainly. For Remembrance Day a piper may play the official Canadian Forces lament, “Flowers of the forest”. At a St. Patrick`s Day (March 17) event, Irish tunes and marches are suitable such as “Wearing of the green” or “Minstrel Boy.”  To pipe in the haggis on Robby Burns Day (January 25), a piper may play “A Man’s A Man for A’ That”.  For a wedding, a piper may pipe the bride in at the beginning of the ceremony to the “Wedding March” and bride and groom out at the completion of the service to “Mairi`s wedding”; “Highland wedding” or “Highland Cathedral.” For a head table, common musical requests are “Skye Boat Song”, “Green Hills (A Scottish Soldier)” or “Lark in the Clear Air”. Melodies for a funeral service or at the grave site include “Flowers of the Forest”, “Highland Cathedral”, “Going Home”, or “Amazing Grace”.

e-veritas: I understand that band awards may have fallen through the cracks in 2010? Do you recall any band awards from previous years?

WO Daniel Smith: Yes. 7897 LCol (Ret`d) Gilles Langlois, OMM, CD (CMR 1969) presented a  RMC band most valuable member award, which honours: 20476 Catherine Bailey (RRMC RMC 1997), 21243 Gary Hurtubise (RMC 1998), 21437 Dave Brown (RMC 1999) and 21773 Andrew Sargeant (RMC 2000).

The RMC graduating class of 1982 donated a band shield, which honours RMC graduate pipers from 13600 Chris P Bowers (RMC 1979-82) to 16037 Andrew M Robison (RMC 1983-87).

e-veritas: What do you do when the cadets leave in the summer for OJT?

WO Daniel Smith: This summer, I have been busy with handover to the new Drum Major, WO Gene Heather. For the last several years I have been an organizer on the pipe side of the Royal Nova Scotia International tattoo, during the first week in July in Halifax. The tattoo features over 2000 Canadian and international military and civilian performers.

Leave a Comment