Two things are perhaps surprisingly uncommon when it comes to piping and drumming in Toronto: there are few pipe bands actually based within the actual city of four-million people; and there are no bands especially for players ages 18 and younger.
That’s changed with the recent formation of the Ryan Russell Memorial Pipe Band, an extension of the Toronto Police Pipe Band organization that is designed to foster learning for young pipers and drummers, while also paying homage to Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell, who was killed in the line of duty in January 2011, and who was also a great admirer of pipes and drums.
Led by Pipe-Major Brian Urkosky, who also runs the Toronto Police Grade 3 band, Ryan Russell Memorial has already attracted 10 players who are already on the pipes, and two drummers, one with some experience and another who is just beginning. The band plans to compete in Grade 5 in 2014 and also at Ontario competitions where a Juvenile category is offered, and is aiming to perform at the Ontario Police Memorial event in May.
Urkosky said that the band has another 10 who are interested in learning, who got wind of the group through the Toronto Police Services corporate communications. Practices will start in October in conjunction with the Grade 1 and Grade 3 rehearsals at the Toronto Police College on the west side of the city.
“Ryan was a friend with many band members, including me,” said Urkosky, who is also a service Toronto Police officer. “Being a juvenile band means that players will age out of the organization once they turn 19, but the future is a few years away. However, there will always be a youth-only band here, as well as a teaching program. It is the hope that after players progress through this band, they will choose to continue to play a Highland instrument with the Toronto Police Pipe Band.”
Urkosky added that the band is applying for official not-for-profit status, but is hoping for financial support from the public, the policing community at large, and grants. Toronto-based Stuart Lowe has come on board to teach piping, and the drumming instructor is the well-known Grade 1 leader and competitor Doug Stronach.
The band is paying additional homage to the Sergeant Ryan Russell by including is badge number of 7686 in its logo.