Honouring with bagpipes
by Ann van Engelen
Phillip Bell’s bagpiping adventure started as a young boy attending Anzac parades in Temuka with his father where he would admire the pipe band leading the parade.
“When I was 10 years old, we moved to Rangiora, and I began researching my family history. My grandmother is a Cameron and came from Scotland. When I was 14 years old I wanted to connect to the family and claim my heritage, so I joined the McAlpines North Canterbury Pipe Band,” says Phillip.
“The band was very active, and I played with them for 23 years. Anzac Day is the busiest day on the calendar, so individual members play at different events throughout the district, and we would finish together at the Rangiora Parade.
“I now play in the Scottish Society Pipe Band, and we have several members from the Selwyn district. St Andrews College constantly has more than 100 people learning the bagpipes, it is certainly not a dying instrument, and anyone can learn. The Canterbury Caledonian Society are the New Zealand Grade one champions; St Andrews College are the Grade two champions and The Scottish Society are the Grade three champions.
“I lived in Oban, Scotland for two years because I wanted to visit my ancestral homeland and joined a pipe band there. They have Remembrance Day on November 11, and that was an honour to attend. I went to the battleground and found the Cameron clan gravestone and played my bagpipes there, which drew an incredible emotion sense of belonging.
“I am very grateful to have the privilege of playing at Anzac events. There is a great deal of pride leading the returned and present service people down the road as you honour them, celebrating and remembering them in a very special way. People talk to you with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces.”
The pipes provoke so many emotions and memories.
“They remember their dad used to play, or how they used to march in the army to bagpipes and drums. A pipe band has military origins, and we are very regimental in our structure and are lead by a drum and pipe major like the armed forces have sergeants and corporals. The instrument stirs up excitement and adds a sense of ceremony, dignitary and pageantry to events — the Queen Mother’s funeral had 1,000 bagpipers lead her away from the church.
“I love playing at funerals — it honours the person and their family and adds dignity. I traditionally pipe the casket out of the service and lead the hearse away from the venue and often play at the graveside. At armed forces funerals, people wear their uniforms, and other people wear medals.
They often place poppies on the casket, which is draped in the New Zealand flag. They stand at attention and pay respect and the pipes are so appropriate to send them off to. I have played in conjunction with a Maori cultural group at a funeral and played the casket out of the service to the Last Post whilst a haka was being performed outside.
“It is an incredible intertwining of cultures, which are very similar, Maori have tribes, and Scottish have clans.
“At Anzac parades, the current day soldiers are similar to the guards outside Buckingham Palace, and there is comradery when they come together with the older generations. The older band members always turn up for Anzac.
“I believe it is New Zealand’s day. Leading the soldiers down the road with the New Zealand flag waving while the national anthem is playing with everyone gathered together can be sad but we are grateful for the sacrifices people have made so we can live the way we live now and playing the bagpipes is an absolute honour.”
Find Phil the Piper on Facebook if you are interested in learning bagpipes.