November 24, 2023

Good karma, good friends, good timing and good fortune: new Calgary band “discards old mindsets”

There’s a new pipe band in the western Canadian city of Calgary that strives to play with meticulous attention to musical and technical detail . . . but not driven by competition.

The Slainte Social Club comprises local pipers and drummers, not disenchanted, per se, with the pursuit of contest prizes but simply less enamoured. They still love creating great music, just not necessarily for judges.

The group was born from the pandemic. “Prolonged COVID restrictions on gatherings and playing musical instruments made practice nights impossible and drove a wedge into the pipe band world’s collective connection with our community, our instruments, our music and our people,” said Slainte Social Club’s Stu Brazier, the former pipe-major of the Grade 2 Rocky Mountain, also from Alberta. “This ordeal was more acute for our little community and some bands faced unresolvable challenges resulting in dwindling membership or dissolving them entirely.”

Like most bands, Brazier kept interest in piping and drumming with fellow players percolating via regular Zoom gatherings that he described as “weekly online discussions and quarter-backing conversations about music theory, reed manipulation, techniques and various other hot topics. The group showcased local talent and hosted instructional seminars led by influential members of the piping and drumming community.”

Slainte Social Club at its first public performance at the Calgary Highland Games beer tent, September 2022.

Once the pandemic eased, rather than everyone returning to competition bands, they decided to continue, finally gathering in person.

“It was an odd ‘reunion’ to be sure, when those who had only met and played on a screen finally gathered in person,” he said. “Handshakes and hugs replaced microphones and screens. The Club embraced newfound friendships and identity and created a strong and cohesive pipe corps.”

From there, the Slainte Social Club decided they should perform. They debuted with a selection of tunes and covers of well-known pop songs at the Calgary Highland Games’ beer tent. According to Brazier, “Slainte caught the attention of other players who became instantly curious about what this new group was all about.”

The following year, the group’s first meeting was packed with existing and new players, including drummers who liked what the pipers were doing.

Are we misfits? Maybe, but who isn’t? Are we rebels? A little, hell yes!

“Good karma, good friends, good timing and good fortune continued to work in [our] favour,” Brazier said. “The Western pipe band community unconditionally embraced this newly formed band and helped provide kilts, sporrans, drums and harnesses, and local designers helped with a handsome new logo for the bass heads. The Slainte Social Club proudly wears the Ancient MacLeod of Harris tartan and is under the leadership of [me], Ian Baxter, Sandy McNabb and Duncan Pickard.”

Slainte Social Club’s drum section, the whole band now kitted-out.

He described the group’s ethic as “a new and modern approach to pipe band life. We nurture creativity and collaborative support for all players and focus on large-band performance and competition pieces as well as small group performances. It’s a great opportunity to perform at every member’s level – play for fun, learn, compete, develop corps play or just jam with some buds. Slainte discards old mindsets and methods of pipe band management, and embraces flexibility and accountability with our mantra: You Get What You Focus On. Our unofficial mission statement is, We align individual focus to play music well with the understanding that enjoyment is simply a byproduct of the commitment you make.”

Perhaps ironically, the band isn’t ruling out competing but stresses that it would be secondary to camaraderie and performance. Brazier said they would probably look to be assigned to at least Grade 3 if they did.

Brazier concluded: “Are we misfits? Maybe, but who isn’t? Are we rebels? A little, hell yes! But whoever we decide to be we are resolute in our dedication to each other and to our music.”






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