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Bagpipe Music Traditions in Canada, Scotland and Brittany

September 30, 2009

De Tar 2009

Sylvia DeTar with the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, moments after winning the 2009 World Pipe Band Championships. (Photo by L. Casjens)

Last summer, I received a French FLAS award from the Canadian Studies Center, enabling me to study French, and play highland bagpipes with the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Pipe Band. My
research examines relationships among bagpipe music in Scotland, Brittany, and Canada. The SFU Pipe Band, the six-time World Pipe Band Champion, incorporates music from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and North America, representing a fair amount of Celtic expression and in turn influencing pipe band repertoires around the world. However, despite sharing French as a language, there exists a historical separation of repertoires between Canada and Brittany.

During the summer, acclaimed Breton bagpiper Xavier Borderiou joined the SFU Pipe Band, introduced the band to Breton music, and helped correct my French homework (!). For the first time, the SFU Pipe Band’s piping school taught Breton tunes (which include many false notes, fast runs, and irregular time signatures).

In August the SFU Pipe Band traveled to Scotland where it sold out Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, recorded a CD, defended its world pipe band championship status, and won. I then traveled to St. Malo, Brittany, the home of Jacques Cartier (the explorer who claimed Canada for France). There I learned interesting stories about the history of immigration to Canada, listened to Breton music, spoke to a few locals, and rounded out my summer of French and bagpipe research.

Next summer, I plan to continue my research into the relationship between bagpipes in Canada and in Brittany, travel to Québec, learn more French, and befriend bagpipe bands in the area. I can’t wait!

Sylvia is a composer, performer, and master’s student in ethnomusicology at the UW. She is a 2009 Summer FLAS award recipient from the Canadian Studies Center.