Burns Night preparations

Drummers during a Green Braes Pipes and Drums practice for the upcoming Robbie Burns Night. From left to right, Mike Mackay, Bruce Reid, and Christopher Dyck.

The sounds and dances of the Scottish Highlands will fill the Legion Hall in Swift Current on Jan. 25 during the annual Robbie Burns Night, hosted by the Green Braes Pipes and Drums.

This annual celebration of the life and poetry of the Scottish poet Robert Burns usually takes place on the weekend nearest to his birthday, but this year it will be on his actual birthday. He was born 260 years ago on Jan. 25, 1759.

Nicole Rewerts, who has been playing bagpipe with the band since 2005, said it is the most important event on the band’s annual calendar.

“It's the focal point of our year,” she noted. “For myself, it's when my sons comes home. Two of my boys play in the band. They've of course grown up and gone on with their lives, but they always come home for Burns. I know the McCrie boys also come home for Burns. I know other families too, they come home for Burns. They may not play, but they come home, buy their tickets and the families get together.”

The evening of food and entertainment will also be a good experience for those who do not have Scottish ancestry.

“It's quite unique,” she said. “You get a bit of everything. You get information on Robbie Burns, you get a meal, you get entertainment, the pipes and drums, the dancing, you get a dance, you get socialization. So there's just a little bit of everything for everyone and there's not anything really like it out there, and everyone from the whole family can come.”

There will be a catered roast beef supper with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). There will also be haggis for those who want to taste Scotland’s national dish. The haggis for this event will mostly be liver that is ground up with oats, spices and suet.

“It's like a sausage really in texture and taste, a spicy sausage,” she said.

The Green Braes Pipes and Drums currently have around 14 band members and Burns Night is also the group’s main fundraiser for the year.

“Sometimes we need equipment and sometimes we'll donate it to the Legion or to other groups that we see fit,” she said about the use of funds. “It depends on what we do in a year. One year our drums were getting really old. So we decided to buy some new drums. Our costs aren't great. We all buy our own instruments, but our uniforms and everything are paid by the band. So if those need to be replaced, those are costs we do pay as a band.”

The Green Braes Pipes and Drums have been active in Swift Current since the early 1970s. Band members practice on Monday nights at the Legion Hall. The band has an arrangement with the Royal Canadian Legion to practice at the hall, and in return the group will perform at Legion events such as Decoration Day and Remembrance Day.

“When I joined the band it was a lot bigger,” Rewerts recalled. “So I suppose it's slowly getting smaller. … It's takes a fair bit of time commitment. It's not expensive to join the band, but it's a fair bit of time. Only the truly stubborn can play the bag pipes. It's not difficult, you just have to be stubborn. I was told when I started that the moment you feel like you're going to throw them through the window, that's when you press on, because you just about made it, and that's pretty much been my experience.”

Recently the band has been practising with dancers from The Dance Studio, a local dance school that provides the Highlands dance performance during Burns Night.

“We always meet in January to rehearse,” she said. “We need to remember how to play for the dancers and I think they need to remember how to dance to us. We quite often play either too fast or too slow for them and we need to remember to get our tempo right. We usually have a couple of nights where we practice together.”

Rewerts originally attended Burns Night as a teenager, when she was a dancer, and later she was a dance teacher who prepared her students to dance at the event. She is therefore familiar with the challenge of dancing at the event with a pipe band.

“When my students danced, the hardest part was that it wasn't a solo piper,” she recalled. “You suddenly had the feedback from the drones, you had the pipes and drums, and it was just louder. In one part the energy from the band makes it easier to dance, but in the other part having the whole band there is just a different sound and it's not what they're used to. So it made it just a little bit harder and sometimes the tune would be a little bit different or the tempo would be different and it would be easier to get lost.”

The joint practices of the band and the dancers before Burns Night help to prepare the band members and the dancers for their performance at the event.

Robbie Burns Night takes place at the Legion Hall, Jan. 25. Doors open at 6 p.m. and supper is served at 7 p.m. Entertainment will include Highland dancers, a performance by the Green Braes Pipes and Drums and a deejay will provide music for the dance. Tickets are $35 for adults and $17 for children under 12. Tickets are available at Pharmasave.

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