In the fall of 1989 the doors of a small bungalow on Water Street in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, were opened to provide instruction in piping, drumming and Highland dance. Twenty-five years later, the bungalow has expanded into a large facility with an outdoor theatre and acres of land, all dedicated to promoting and preserving the Celtic performing art.
The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014, and will throw its own birthday party at the Homecoming Summerside Highland Gathering June 27-29, 2014.
The College began as the dream of some local business people, and operated initially with part-time instructors. A huge step forward was the hiring of Scott MacAulay in February of 1990. A larger-than-life character and one of the most exciting pipers of the day, Scott provided the foundation for growth into the institution that would become the full-blown College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada.
Many high profile pipers, drummers and dancers have come through the halls and across the stage of the College in Summerside as students, teachers and performers. R.S. MacDonald’s well-known hornpipe, “The College of Piping, Summerside, PEI,” was written on a boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence when the he visited the College in the early ’90s. Some of MacAulay’s students have gone on to win Gold Medals and Glenfiddich Championships.
As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations, the College has added “Homecoming” to the 2014 Highland games, with the hope is that alumni will be drawn back to the College for a reunion and celebration. Many have not been back to the College since current Executive Director Karen Hatcher and her current team redirected it after some shaky years after MacAulay’s death.
On Friday the 27th of June a reception will be held in the beer tent on the College grounds for all returning alumni. Friday will also see the preview of the College’s stage production, Highland Storm. During the day, instructors James and Kylie MacHattie and Chris Coleman will be available to help any former students who might be a bit rusty to get their instruments and hands going again, since the College of Piping Alumni Pipe Band will spring into existence for a couple of days to play during the massed bands of the Saturday and Sunday contests, and any other impromptu performances they wish.
Saturday and Sunday will be the solo piping, drumming and highland dance contests, and the pipe band competition. Judges for piping and drumming are James Beaumont, Drew Duthart, Iain MacDonald and Bob Worrall. Celtic Idol – an anything-goes Celtic performance contest with a $500 prize – will take place on the Saturday. The Celtic rock group Rawlins Cross will entertain beer tent patrons “into the wee hours,” according to James MacHattie.