There’s years they’ve had more than 100 students march together in parades, and others when there’s just 15, but over the six decade tenure of the White Spot Pipe Band, there’s one thing that has been consistent: the music.
Featuring a lineup of bagpipers, snare drummers, tenor drummers and a bass drummer, the White Spot Pipe Band has travelled the world sharing their traditional Scottish songs, and have become local fixtures in parades, Remembrance Day ceremonies and other community events.
“We’re a community-based band, and there are many opportunities for our kids. They get to travel, they meet other kids from other places in the world, and develop friendships that they wouldn’t get if they just stayed at home and played a video games,” said musical director Graham Davidson, who has been with the band for 25 years.
“It’s a niche, it’s one of those things, you love it or you hate it. I’ve been here so long now, I’m teaching kids of kids I’ve taught. You get a lot of people that bring their own kids here because they’ve been involved in the past, and they’ve had such a great experience, not necessarily with just the White Spot Pipe Band, but with the whole piping, drumming and highland dancing community.”
Open to youth ages 8 to 18, the White Spot Pipe Band welcomes players of all backgrounds and abilities to join, and is one of the only pipe bands in Canada to have highland dancers train and perform with them. This year they have 60 students involved, including several from Langley.
Davidson, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in North Vancouver, first became inspired by piping music as a little kid while watching the pipe bands in the PNE parade. In his work with the White Spot Pipe Band, he says he’s watched kids gain far more than just a musical education.
“We live in an age where life’s becoming fast food. And this takes a commitment of time, and some energy, and a desire to work at home a bit,” he said.
“We try and be respectful for everybody, because we attract so many different backgrounds here. So it’s about being respectful to others, team building, and then of course, learning music.”
Founded in 1956 as the Optimist Junior Pipe Band, in 1963 Nat Bailey of the White Spot Restaurant chain took over sponsorship, and the group has been known as the White Spot Pipe Band ever since.
Over the last 60 years, students involved have had the opportunity to travel to Scotland, China, Mexico, Hawaii and Montreal, and compete in several Highland Games in B.C. and Washington State.
“Opportunity is the biggest draw for me. And if it is part of your heritage, I think that’s great to try and keep that going forward in your family,” said Alisa Corscadden, president of the White Spot Pipe Band, who is also a former highland dancer and instructor.
“And that’s the great thing about organizations like this, because there is opportunities for these kids to go and travel, and see places and be part of a community. They get to participate in parades, and give back to the community, which I think is really good. They have opportunities that they never would have had, and make lifelong friends, too.”
Corscadden became involved with the group five years ago when she enrolled her three children in the band.
In that time she has watched them transition from never having played an instrument, to now being hired at weddings.
“It gives them another outlet, too. It’s always school this, and pressure that. This is just fun. It’s a different outlet to express themselves and make friends in different realms as well, she said.
“If they’re having troubles at school, or something like that, they have another place they can go to meet people and enjoy themselves by having a good time. It just helps them become balanced people.”
The students, too, say they have enjoyed both the music, and the group environment.
“Its fun, you make friends, it’s a good time,” said Callum Ilott, a snare drummer and Grade 10 student at Walnut Grove Secondary.
“It’s a good thing to know, it helps you learn a lot of other stuff. It keeps you at a good mental level and it helps your memory,” added Ethan Fowler, a base drummer and Grade 9 student at Langley Secondary School.
“I really just like the musical aspect of it, I like how the music sounds,” said Fowler’s twin brother, Aiden.
“You get to play a type of music that you normally don’t hear on the radio (and) all of your friends are here, it’s not just straight practice, you get to hang out.”
The White Spot Pipe Band’s next public performance is this Sunday (Oct. 2) at the CIBC Run for the Cure in Vancouver.
They will also play at a hockey game at the Langley Events Centre on Nov. 10 at the Vancouver Giants White Spot Legends Night.
For more info on the band, visit www.whitespotpipeband.com.