Editor’s Note: Article written in 2015
PICTOU – The pipes, they are a calling.
The Pipes of War is returning to the deCoste Entertainment Centre stage on November 7.
Robbie MacInnis has been involved with the production since the beginning and is pleased to present it for the fifth year.
“From the beginning, it was a means of remembering Bill Millen, the piper of Normandy,” explains MacInnis.
During the Second World War, pipers were not permitted to wear their kilts because it was considered to be too much bravado and many pipers were lost because of this in the First World War. Because pipers were a way to boost morale, they were crucial during the war.
Millen’s commander was himself Scottish and told him the day they stormed Sword Beach on D-Day in Normandy, that he could in fact, wear his kilt.
The iconic photo of the lone piper in his kilt as the soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy continues to resonate with people.
“Bill died a few years ago and I didn’t want people to forget the history or the importance of the pipes,” says MacInnis.
That is why the Pipes of War started, but it continues each year as a means of recognizing the various military troops that existed in the area.
“The first time the show commemorated D-Day, being as there was never really anything to celebrate or recognize this event; now this year it is taking place during Veteran’s Week.”
The Pipes of War changes each year to celebrate monumental military events and next year the hope is to have the production in celebration of Vimy Ridge and its 100th anniversary.
“We highlight different battles each year. This year we are highlighting the Pictou Highlanders, telling their stories and showing people the military presence that was once here.”
This production includes tunes and stories associated with the Pictou Highlanders and why these tunes were composed.
“Some of these (pipe tunes) are well known,” says MacInnis. “People hear them during parades, but we want people to know why they are so famous. For example, the Green Hills of Tyrol was written about a Scottish soldier who wanted to go home to his rolling hills instead of die in Tyrol during the Crimean War. There is a very famous picture painted about the Thin Red Line (a military action in Tyrol)… it brings it into context.”
MacInnis notes that a lot of the pipe tunes are old, but not as old as we tend to think.
“Scotland the Brave was only written in the early 1900s, people think it’s much older than that… this is a way of educating the public and young pipers on why we play these tunes. We have a lot of fun with the show.”
MacInnis also wrote a special pipe tune for the production.
“I wrote an original tune called ‘When the Music Meets the Bow’ referring to a fiddle that was inspired by Fleur Mainville,” he explains. “I wrote it in 2008, when Fleur was first diagnosed (with cancer) and there was a benefit at the deCoste…”
MacInnis broke his femur and never had the chance to perform the tune.
This year it will be played at the end of the production by a lone fiddler (instead of the traditional Amazing Grace by the lone piper), one of Mainville’s former students, and will be joined by the pipes.
“We wanted to honour what Fleur has done over the years for the community and she herself was a former Heatherbell (Pipes and Drums member). Fleur always had a way of pulling music out of an instrument.”
There will be dancers, fiddlers, pipers and more at the Pipes of War on November 7 at 7:30 p.m.