Sunday 16 May 2010

Blowing The Pipes and Banging The Drums

For numerous years, the Moncton-based Codiac RCMP Pipes and Drums Band has entertained audiences.

The local group, which was the first of seven presently in the nation, has an origin that can be traced back to the early 1990s, years before the Moncton Police Force was decommissioned in favor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“It was the Centennial Anniversary of the City of Moncton”, reflects Pat Fox. A retired member of the RCMP and former member of the Moncton Police Force, she’s the group’s Quartermaster. “Back then, (the Chief), with the Moncton Police Force, decided that we should have a pipe band in Moncton. I remember the memo that came out. The Chief was looking for anybody that wanted to learn how to play bagpipes!”

As time progressed and the group’s reputation solidified, the band’s playing brought it to places well beyond the city limits.

In the opinion of Art Cormier, former member of the Pipe Band, inclusion in the band opens the doors to life experiences and adventures that most people don’t have the pleasure of having.

One of the highlights he had was one involving royalty.

“In order to have your kilt put in your name like the RCMP, you have to have royal decent. In our case, it was Princess Anne in Fredericton. So we went there and played for her. We also had meals with her. It was so exclusive that the only ones that were allowed in there was the band and her security, which she had five or six (people). So it was nice getting pictures of her. I got pictures of her with my daughter. She was very normal. I had thought that maybe she would be much more different because she’s royalty. Even the press was not allowed inside that room. The thing I really noticed that I thought was kind of interesting was that I would take a picture of her and a member of her security team would be taking a picture of me!”

Wayne Beattie, Band Manager, concurs with Cormier on the issue of travel and experiences.

“We perform at probably anywhere between thirty and forty events per year, including RCMP functions such as police memorials, ceremonies. We do parades, such as the “Gold Cup and Saucer” in PEI in conglomeration with the composite band of RCMP Nova Scotia from Halifax. We also have members who have attended events in England when George The RCMP Horse was presented to Her Majesty The Queen. Scott Murray, our Pipe Major, was honored to go with a composite band from the RCMP.”

“It’s a great opportunity to travel,” Beattie continues. “We travel all over the country. We’ve been to Ottawa. Some of our members have been down to Las Vegas. There’s lots of opportunity this year, there’s lots of opportunity coming up.”

Although the group’s affiliated with policing, members of the general public who are basic civilians can participate as members. With membership numbers currently in the early-twenties, the Codiac RCMP Pipes and Drums are in need of new members.

“Our main objective is to draw people to come out, perform in our band, be part of it, and be proud of what we do,” says Beattie. “As Band Manager, that’s my plea to put out to anyone who is interested!”

Membership to the group is open to people of all walks of life and demographics, even children. However, potential members must pass an RCMP criminal record check and be able to afford some of the necessary cost, like those related to some of the equipment.

In the case of Cormier, who had twice of the expenses as most other members due to the enrolment of his then-adolescent daughter, he was lucky not to worry about such costs.

“At that time, I was working (for a company), doing a lot of detailing, and I had this gentleman who was a very nice customer of mine. He was a little bit older, maybe in his 80s. He used to be at my shop every week getting his car washed. We became friends over the years and always talked. (One day he asked) “Art, What’s new?”. I said, “Geez, funny you should ask. I just joined the RCMP Pipe Band.”

Cormier proceeded to tell his regular customer about wanting to be a father participating in regular bonding activities with his daughter. His customer was touched by Cormier’s approach at parenting and told him to remind him of his conversation when he’d return later in the day to pay for his car wash.

Upon his return, the customer asked about the cost of the kilts. Cormier told him that they each had a price tag of $1,100. The customer proceeded to write him a cheque for $2,200. The generous customer told Cormier “I’m paying for it (but) they’re your kilts. You get to keep your kilts! You don’t owe me anything! The only thing I want in return is that you send me a list by e-mail letting me know of all of the gigs when you’re going to play because I really want to watch and enjoy them.”

“That was always a big memory before I got in the band”, Cormier says.

Occasionally, being a member of the RCMP Pipes and Drums Band can lead to strangely comedic situations, as Cormier remembers.

”We used to play for the Air Force Vets in Moncton for Remembrance Day. (One year) we went there and played for them. I remember one of the guys went up to the bar while I was sitting down at the table having a drink. There was a senior citizen, a woman (at the bar). She was probably in her 80s. As he was standing there, I saw her head tilting and tilting. I guess what she was trying to figure out the big question, you know, “Do you wear anything under the kilt?” She was trying everything to see. I remember her trying to sort of flick his kilt, trying to see if he was wearing something! That was quite funny!”

As for that popular question the old lady was trying to solve, Cormier provides an interesting answer: “The only way to know is for (a person) to actually join the band!”

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. He can be reached at: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010