Throughout their history, bagpipes have been linked by definition with the fighting Scots — first the Highlanders who invented them, then the Scottish regiments of the United Kingdom.
That military spirit will be evident Sunday afternoon at the Cumberland County Civic Center, when the pipes, drums and Highland dancers of the Black Watch (officially, the Fire Support Group of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiments of Scotland) will appear along with the Band of the Scots Guard.
Traditionally, pipes and drums “psyched guys up before battle and inspired fear in the enemy,” said Maj. Andrew Halliday, commanding officer of the Fire Support Group. The drums were important for communication and to set the marching pace, and the band escorted the colors. “There was a tangible reason to have them on the battlefield,” Halliday said.
Today, music is no longer in practical use, but soldiers “will sneak a pipe or two into their military kit,” Halliday said. “To us, the pipes and drums are very much part of our shared spirit as men of the Black Watch. (The music) inspires us, it unites us, it’s part of our esprit de corps.”
The pipers, drummers and Highland dancers of the Black Watch are soldiers first and foremost. For the last five years, they have been regularly deployed in Afghanistan, and most of those who will appear Sunday have been deployed several times already, Halliday said.
Unlike the Black Watch, the 43-piece Band of the Scots Guards is composed of professional musicians whose principal duties are ceremonial. They also record, tour regularly and have accompanied the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Whenever their active service allows, the Black Watch appears at the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Both bands have toured North America frequently since 1955. In 1963, the Black Watch played at the White House nine days before President Kennedy’s death; at Jacqueline Kennedy’s request, they returned to play for his funeral.
Halliday called the current two-month tour (with almost daily concerts) “an amazing treat.” The soldier-musicians have been honored as military men, and respected for the history and heritage they represent.
“We feel well-appreciated here, and have been humbled and inspired” by the reception, Halliday said.
The concert will include traditional Highland tunes and dances along with British anthems and some “jazzier numbers” from the Scots Guard. The combined bands will play a tribute to U.S. armed forces, inviting service people to stand and be honored. “It’s a powerful moment,” Halliday said.
The end of the tour will mean a return to military life. “While we’ve been over here, the rest of the guys have been practicing military skills,” Halliday noted, so the pipers, drummers and dancers will have some catching up to do.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.