Since the inception of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band in 1981, the band has been a trailblazer, setting impressively lofty standards for musicality, competitive drive, and sound. SFU’s roots branch from its British Columbia Grade 1 forerunners. Pipe Major Terry Lee and Pipe Sergeant Jack Lee honed their pipe band abilities in the ranks of James Troy’s City of Victoria in the 1970s. Terry Lee went on to lead the now defunct Port Moody Pipe Band before starting SFU through sponsorship by the university as a part of the institution’s Scottish heritage.
While SFU has been World Champion three times, the band was one of the Piper & Drummer’s favourite questions: What’s the best band never to win the World’s? In truth – and few if any would deny it – SFU should probably have no fewer than five world titles by now. Had it been another day under different circumstances, SFU could have easily had its first World’s trophy at least ten years sooner when it fairly blew everyone off the park in Hamilton, Scotland, in 1985.
Many people outside of SFU’s area don’t know of the band’s formidable teaching efforts and feeder system, designed not only to nurture and further the standard of the Grade One band, but also promote piping and drumming in the region. The Robert Malcolm Memorial Pipe Band was developed in honour of pipers Robert Barbulak and Malcolm Bokenfor who were sadly killed in an auto accident, and today the program comprises bands in all grades.
“We spend a lot of time teaching young players and beginners,” Pipe Major Terry Lee comments. “Our hope is that with this mentoring they will develop into solid Grade 1 players. I strongly encourage all new players coming into the Grade One band to get involved in teaching.”
As a whole, SFU’s ensemble effect is considered state-of-the-art. As with all great bands, the relationship between Terry Lee and Lead Drummer J. Reid Maxwell, as might be expected, is paramount to success.
“Reid and I experiment a lot,” says Lee. “We think along the same lines when it comes to pipe music, and the result is a very good mix. We aren’t afraid to listen to the constructive criticism of others whose opinions we respect.”
What’s the secret to the pipe section’s consistently great tone and playing precision? Terry Lee responds: “There’s no secret; we just constantly work at it. While the final decisions are mine, I’m not afraid to seek the help and input of others, such as my brother Jack, and other well known members of the band. We work well together and create a good environment, and we constantly strive to do better and are rarely satisfied.”
Perhaps the word “intensity” best describes SFU. It is a band that is driven by an extraordinary combination of talent, desire, inspiration, and focus. There is no doubt that, perhaps in part due to the band’s geographic isolation from serious competition, rumours abound about the intensity of their practices.
So what can others learn from the extraordinary SFU beyond listening to and trying to emulate the band’s sound and focus? Pipe major Terry Lee sums it up well: “If I have anything that I’d like to pass on in the way of a tip, it would be to listen always to good advice from people you admire, and never forget that you can always learn and improve.”
Simon Fraser University Pipe Band
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Canada, V5A 1S6
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