by Cdt Callum Carslaw
On Saturday 31st of March, I set off for Inverness on the train for the Pipes and Drums concentration. After a 7 hour journey, and after being picked up from the station, I arrived at Cameron Barracks. The camp was officially an Army cadet camp with air cadets being invited along as well and through what might have been a mistake, I was put in a room with Army cadets. This was a little awkward throughout the week as I stood in my blues in the morning but it didn’t matter as the camp progressed.
When we arrived we were assessed by Pipe Majors to judge which group we would be put in for the week. Not knowing the tunes and it being my first time placed me in Intermediate group 1 which contained around 10 to 15 pipers.
Sunday – an early start and an awkward start as I realised that even the air cadets were in greens. After breakfast and a quick room tidy, we go to our lessons for the morning. For the first half of the week the lessons were spent learning tunes and practicing exercises to improve fingering. We were told quite quickly that, as the top intermediate group, we were expected to play in the massed bands at the end of the week. This would require a lot of effort from all of us as nobody quite knew all of the given music. In the afternoon, massed band practice was tiring and was pretty much constant playing for half an hour at a stretch. I was very relieved at the end of the first practice as I had my reed replaced for a much harder one which meant it was much harder to blow.
Another early start on Monday – this time we were awoken to a reveille from an advanced group piper marching around the camp. We had more lessons until lunch and massed band practice after.
For the rest of the week, until Thursday, and with the exception of Wednesday where we had the afternoon off, we spent lessons learning new music, sharing favourite tunes and practicing. The aim of the week for most of the pupils was to gain a Pipes and Drums Qualifications Board award. These awards are assessing maintenance of the pipes, playing technique and theory and I was awarded a Level 4 equivalent to a Scottish standard grade or a GCSE.
On Wednesday Night we were very lucky to watch an impressive display from the instructors that had been helping out throughout the week. It was a great inspiration to us and a great performance.
Thursday was the dress rehearsal. We had been issued kilts, jackets and sporrans to wear and ribbons and bag covers for our pipes. However, the terrible weather (including hail and sleet) as well as the snow still on the ground from earlier in the week meant we were sitting inside longer than we were playing. Eventually, we were sent inside into the DCCT range where the incredible noise saw them issue us all with earplugs. We must have spent over an hour in there plus time outside practicing when the weather got better. When the rehearsal was over, my lips were bursting and we all looked forward to an evening of relaxation. On Thursday night, there was a talent show featuring beat boxing, dancing and music from the cadets as well.
Throughout Friday, there was a rehearsal in the morning, on pipes, and then in the afternoon we played at the parade in Dingwall which was well supported by the locals. With a day of playing pipes, I was very tired. We were parading on a narrow street with crowds either side so when we attempted to counter march with five ranks, there was not enough room. For about ten seconds, no one was playing their pipes as we were all fighting and pulling our way through the shoulders of the people either side. When the parade was over – the rest went without a hitch – we were welcomed into a hotel and offered scones, jam, crisps and un-diluted orange squash. On Friday night was the Ceilidh – traditionally a dance but it was really just a concert. There were performances from some of the battalions, from the advanced pipers, a solo and from two Pipe Majors and a drummer. The Pipe majors were very good and there was a truly awesome drum solo.
Saturday was the last day and included two parades as well as another rehearsal in the morning. The first parade was the prize giving parade in the afternoon where prizes were presented by a Colonel of the Army Cadets for the most improved in each level and best overall piper and best overall drummer. This involved playing through the whole performance again (for the second time of the day). In the evening at seven o’ clock, we set off for Inverness Castle. The parade went well and we all felt great to have completed the week and played in the massed bands. We went to the town hall for drinks, food and speeches.
By the end of the week, I was tired from the constant piping and early starts but was proud to have played in the massed bands. I am going to Edinburgh in May to play at Edinburgh Castle which I am really looking forward to and have been asked to play for the Queen at Balmoral. Unfortunately, I am on holiday so will have to wait another year to play there. I can hardly wait for Inverness 2013.
See a video of the cadets in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEEKLJPwzMQ&feature=youtu.be