I’m heading to the Alma Highland Games this weekend, an event in central Michigan held on the grounds of one of several small liberal arts colleges in the US that tout their Scottishness. Monmouth College in Illinois, Lyon College in Arkansas and, where I went to school, Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, have similar Scottish set-ups.
I was last at Alma 11 years ago with a competing band. It was a fun trip, with a few events that were memorable and not a little weird. I won’t go into those.
But, as a kid from St. Louis, Alma used to be the event of the year. We’d drive 12 hours to get to it, because there were real Grade 1 bands competing. Back then the likes of McNish, Toronto & District, Erskine, Guelph and the dominating Clan MacFarlane would often attend. (Interestingly, none of those top-level bands are around now.) But as a 15-year-old from the Paris of the Prairies, it was a whole nuther level. Alma very much made me want to be a part of that, whatever that was.
I also remember one time competing there in the Grade 2 Piobaireachd or something. Major Archie Cairns was the judge. I was to play “Lament for Donald of Laggan.” I got to the end of the first line of the ground and played the second ending to the line, lost the plot and stopped. Not to miss an opportunity to learn, I nonetheless asked Major Cairns, in all seriousness, how the first line was. I remember him finding that humourous, so I of course laughed along, as if I were kidding the whole time.
Anyway, it’s always fun to return to a place like Alma where little seems to change except the perspective from which you’re now seeing it.