Thursday, August 22, 2013


Few things seem as quintessentially Scottish as bagpipes and kilts. This past weekend we embraced Scottish culture by attending the World Pipe Band Championships, held annually in Glasgow.

What is a pipe band? It's a group of approximately 20-25 bagpipe players joined by 10-15 drummers. They march in looking like this:

Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band, from Northern Ireland, enters the circle for competition.
Held over two days on the Glasgow Green (one of Europe's largest city parks), the championships included approximately 225 pipe bands from 17 countries. Pipe bands came from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and even from countries you might not associate with highland bagpiping, such as Mexico, Brazil, and Zimbabwe. All told, there were roughly 8,000 participants and nearly 30,000 fans. The event was broadcast live in many countries around the world.

The bands form a circle for performing, with judges roaming around the outside.
Jackson was entranced. He rarely took his attention off the bands. Sitting in his backpack under a rain shield, he bobbed up and down to the music.

Even with a break in the action he couldn't tear himself away from watching.
The television cameras were smitten with Jackson, broadcasting him for 20 seconds or so sitting in his backpack and enjoying the music. I think the bright yellow rain shield helped provide some pop of color on a day of cloudy skies and intermittent rain.

The 225 bands were divided into subgroups of varying levels of skill. The top level bands all played a prescribed set of pieces, and if they scored highly enough on Saturday they came back on Sunday and played a differed set of prescribed pieces. We attended only on Saturday, but in our time in the stands we were lucky enough to hear three of the past world champions, including the two-time defending champions Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band. As it turned out, the Field Marshall Montgomery band -- named in honor of the famous World War II general -- also won this year, completing a three-peat. I am not very knowledgeable about bagpipes and pipe bands, but as a classically-trained musician I can say that the level of musicianship was impressive.

Besides the bands playing in the various performance arenas, the Glasgow Green was sprinkled with other pipe bands rehearsing or simply performing for fun.  Along with the traditional bagpipe fare, I heard snatches of some more unusual music like "Jump" by Van Halen.

The drum line for an Los Angeles-based pipe band entertained the crowd.
After listening to a series of pipe bands, we headed over to watch some Highland dancers in competition. The dancers were divided by ages, and each had a prescribed dance routine set to a live bagpiper. Judges watched groupings of three dancers dancing simultaneously.

In a new twist this year, all dancers had to levitate off the floor while dancing.
Kate remarked on the incredible leg strength and muscles of many of the dancers. Their socks camouflage how strong their calves are.

Not many boys participated, which I suppose is typical of boys and dancing everywhere. But there were a few:

Note the live bagpiper, who had to play the same tune over and over and over again.
I overheard some young preteens who were rather smitten with this fellow.
Next, we wandered across the Green to snag lunch, and then went to watch some Highland games grunting and wheezing. We got to see one of the most popular events, the caber toss:

This caber didn't completely turn over, resulting in a lower score.
What is a caber? It's a heavy log: 19' 6" and 175 pounds.

"The Big Stick." Of course.
The goal is not so much the distance of the throw as it is to have the caber fall directly away from the thrower, not at an angle. According to Wikipedia, you probably don't want to refer to the thrower as a "tosser" because in the U.K. that refers to "a (generally male) masturbator and, by extension, carries pejorative overtones." {Ed.'s note: Oh, the things you're learning from this blog.}

Now that's a good, thrower.
Besides the caber toss, we got to see some women throw some weights. The event is actually called a "weight throw."

This thrower seemed to be the best of the bunch. Some of her competitors were a bit directionally-challenged with their throws.
We also saw a some guys do an event of lifting three successively heavier stone balls on top of barrels. Undoubtedly it has a name like "ball lifting," but I don't know the name. Of the three gents we watched, two were unable to lift the final ball onto the barrel.

Given the general atmosphere of the competitions, this van seemed to fit in well:

{Fill in your joke caption here.}
Jackson was so enthused by all the sights and sounds of the day that he powered through into late afternoon without a nap, waiting until he got home to finally sleep. He liked his hand stamp so much we only cleaned the other side of his hand for the next day to prevent the ink from washing off.

Really, how could anyone bear to wash off this stamp?
With 8,000 kilt-wearing pipe banders, plus all of the Highland dancers, plus the Highland gamers, this had to be the largest crowd of kilts we'll ever see in our lives. I remarked to Kate that next year I need to have my own kilt to wear to this event. She pointed out that I won't be competing, so why would I wear a kilt?

Why not, woman?!? What kind of question is that? If I need a kilt -- and I do -- then obviously I need places to wear it.

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