The Ryan Russell Memorial Pipe Band was started in the fall of 2013 as part of a teaching initiative by the overall Toronto Police Pipe Band organization, and now they have revealed plans to expand further, creating a Grade 3 band and a Grade 5 band under the Ryan Russell Memorial banner.
While the new Grade 5 band will focus on new pipers and drummers, mainly ages eight to 18, the Grade 3 band will be a “young person” band, but not restricted by age.
The Ryan Russell Memorial Grade 3 band will be led by Ian K. MacDonald as pipe-major and Lead-Drummer Doug Stronach, both of whom are deeply involved with the organization’s teaching program. MacDonald will remain the pipe-sergeant of the flagship Grade 1 Toronto Police Pipe Band, along with Pipe-Major Sean McKeown. Brian Urkosky will run the Grade 5 Ryan Russell Memorial band.
The organization’s teaching program is being expanded accordingly, with a new training program for new players in the age eight-to-14 range, hoping to add eight new pipers and 10 drumming spots in the first year this year. Piping instructors will alternated between Toronto area teachers Michael MacDonald, Rob MacKenzie and Amanda Platt, with Stronach managing the percussion side.
According to MacKenzie, “The ultimate aim of this program is to establish a steady stream of pipers and drummers up the pipeline towards the Toronto Police senior band. this new Grade 3 band will serve as a training ground for anyone who wants to ultimately play at the Grade 1 level. Any new young player from outside the organization who wishes to join must be playing at the required standard for the grade, have some solo competition experience, and be studying privately. Both Ian K. and Doug are committed to the development of young talent for the future of the Toronto Police Pipe Band organization.”
The Grade 3 Toronto Police Pipe Band will reportedly request an upgrade to Grade 2. The Toronto Police organization previously carried a Grade 2 band, in addition to its Grade 1 band, but elected to dissolve the group in the late 2000s.
The grading requests ultimately will be determined by the PPBSO’s Music Committee and board of directors. If the Grade 2 application is approved, the Ontario circuit would have four bands in the grade, with the Toronto Police joining the 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, the Hamilton Police and the Peel Regional Police, assuming there are no additional grade changes.
The organization said that it will move away from providing free tuition and instead ask parent to pay for lessons in groups of four five, to cover fees given to teachers. If a student can’t afford tuition fees, the organization has a mentorship / sponsorship program where a company or individual can help cover the costs. Cameron’s Drumming Studio has already stepped forward to cover the cost of at least one new snare-drumming student in 2019.
Ryan Russell Memorial competed in Grade 4 in Ontario in 2018, and in Grade 4B at the World Pipe Band Championships, placing seventh in its qualifying round. The Grade 3 Toronto Police band also competed at the 2018 World’s, winning its Grade 3B qualifying round and placing sixth in the Final.
The Toronto Police organization’s expanded teaching program is the latest by Ontario-based bands. Last year the Grade 2 Peel Regional Police started a successful teaching program, and fielded a Grade 5 competition band during the season. The Peel organization recently announced that it would add a band, planning to put both a Grade 4 and Grade 5 band in 2019 competitions.
The Ontario-based Hamilton Police, Niagara Regional Police and Rob Roy are three other pipe band organizations that have successful and expanding teaching programs.
With his shifted volunteer focus, MacKenzie has stepped away from his organizational work with the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario’s Toronto Branch.
Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell was killed in the line of duty in January 2011, and was a great admirer of piping and drumming.