The 2011 vintage of the Grade 1 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band of Ontario will have a substantial new look across its roster of players, which currently numbers 27 in the pipe section alson, according to first-year Pipe Major Doug MacRae. Members of the band are geographically spread across North America, as they were before, but MacRae has worked to bring in even more far-flung players.
To work with new players who may live too far away to attend practices regularly, MacRae and his new Pipe-Sergeant Robbie Beaton are using Skype to conduct individual monthly sessions with members of the band.
“This has proven very successful for tweaking things stylistically as well as keeping distanced players up-to-date with changes,” MacRae said. “We’re also distributing recordings of practices. Similarly we are working with the town of Milton [Ontario] to install broadband in to the practice hall so that our distance players can sit in on weekly practices.”
About the use of Skype MacRae added, “It ensures that the distance players know the music early, so there’s no cramming before practice. More importantly, though, we’re able to take the time outside of practice to hear every player individually and ensure all technique and subtleties are correct – this equals strong unison playing at practices. Hard work for everyone, but worth it.”
He said that after the band competed with 15 at the World Pipe Band Championships last August that “the first goal in the fall was to bring in new players, which was essential. We’ve gone back to some fundamentals in sound that were successful for the band in the past, and that has made the offseason much easier.”
While the 78th Frasers have seen the loss of several members, including founding Pipe-Major Bill Livingstone who after 29 years was something of an iconic presence with the band, MacRae is realistic about the influx of new pipers, which includes well-kent talent such as Peter Aumonier, Oakville, Ontario; Jimmy Bell, Arkansas; Tom Bowen, Pickering, Ontario; Alan Clark, Ottawa; Steve MacNeil, Detroit; and Iain Symington, Toronto.
“We’re working very hard on the competition side of things to reestablish the band as a contender,” MacRae added. “We’ve reworked the MSRs, made over a medley and added a new one, which has kept the group busy.” He said that concert material will be slowly added, with the priority being placed on competitive success.
Aumonier, the former Pipe-Major of the now defunct Grade 2 Hamilton Police Pipe Band, has recruited several younger players to his new band.
The 78th Fraser Highlanders plan to attend the United States Pipe Band Championships at Alma, Michigan, in May, an event that it rarely competed at in the past.