The Sunday Magazine

Making bagpipes great again

Traditional bagpipe bands are in serious decline, as their players age out and die. But the Niagara Regional Police Pipe Band is bucking the trend, with weekend get-togethers to help young enthusiasts master the pipes. Maureen Brosnahan’s documentary is called, 'A Big Noise.'
Alejandro Valdez Carletti, 16, one of the young pipers in the band, prepares to perform at the Glengarry Highland Games, where he captured a Gold Medal in his solo competition. Valdez Carletti hopes to carry on piping when he heads to a music program in university next year. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

[Originally published on December 10, 2017]

In skilled hands, they can produce a powerful, stirring and beautiful Celtic sound. But the bagpipes' reputation as ear-splitters and strangled cat impersonators has taken its toll.   

Traditional pipe bands are in serious decline. Many have folded as their players age out and die — and new blood is very hard to come by. 

The Niagara Regional Police Pipe Band is bucking the trend.   

Pipe Major and “Leader of the Band” Peter MacKenzie instructs his young pipers during a weekly practice. MacKenzie, one of North America’s top pipers, has been playing since he was a boy in Scotland and has been with the Niagara Regional Police Pipe Band for more than 17 years. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

Every weekend morning, half a dozen of the old guys — some of Canada's top pipers — meet up at the local Legion Hall to help young enthusiasts master their beloved instrument. 

They're part of a program called The Big Noise, designed specifically to attract young lungs and flexible cheeks to the pipes.         

Gathering of the clans. Hundreds of pipers and drummers representing close to 50 bands from across North America, perform at the finale of the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville, Ontario. It’s one of the largest Pipe Band competitions in the world. (Maureen Brosnahan/CBC)

Maureen Brosnahan's documentary is called A Big Noise.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full documentary.