March 17, 2016

Gettin’ o’ the green: St. Paddy’s payday for bands

We all know it’s an Irish celebration, but we also know that St. Patrick’s Day is the usually the biggest payday – and pay-week – for non-UK pipe bands, many of  which perform in parades and break up strategically into small groups to fan out across the pubs in major cities worldwide to rake in the green.

Pipe bands playing Scotland’s national instrument merrily turn a blind eye to the opportunities to benefit from the conflated tradition of having the higher-volume ceremonial music of the Highland pipes to entertain revellers with nine-note renditions of “The Wearin’ o’ the Green,” “Minstrel Boy,” and “St. Patrick’s Day.”

Even the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin features Scottish pipe bands. [Photo: Creative Commons]
Purists might want to have uillean pipes and bodhran, but who’s going to hear that in a busy pub, and they’re not exactly parade instruments.

The Denver & District Pipe Band of Colorado did 10 performances over 12 hours on March 12th, and then will do another five performances over four hours on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. The effort will put about US$4000 into the band’s coffers, or about a third of its annual budget.

The Grade 3 Coriovallum Pipe Band of Heerlen, Netherlands, will be playing a gig at their local Irish pub, netting them €380, and “Drinks will also be provided, if I am not mistaken,” according to band member Anne Vroomen.

Indeed, free bevvy, often of the green-coloured-beer variety, are provided to thirsty pipe bands, making the St. Paddy’s events even more enjoyable to pipers and drummers, even when they often have to freeze their fingers off and risk their instruments playing in frigid parades.

While St. Patrick’s Day events can be a boom-time for pipes bands, an economic downturn can have the reverse effect for groups that have come to depend on the money.

Calgary’s Grade 2 Rocky Mountain Pipe Band is in a city where there has been a sudden shift in the local economy due to plummeting oil prices.

“We have been involved in St. Patrick’s Day festivities the last couple of years, but with the economic climate the way it is in Calgary currently, the businesses we’ve worked with in the past have pulled back,” said Rocky Mountain Pipe-Major Sean Somers. “Unfortunately this year we’re not participating in any performances. It was a significant fundraiser for the band in years past, and actually helped fund the purchase of new snare drums for us last season. Depending on the number of places we perform, we’d make anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 as a band. So we’ll feel the pinch of not being involved for 2016.”

Be sure to complete the current pipes|drums Poll on the front page of the magazine to include your band’s involvement in paid St. Patrick’s Day gigs.





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