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The pipes, the pipes are calling: the St Andrew’s College Pipe Band

| November 10, 2014 | 1 Comment

By Stephane Meintjes

For the last 76 years, the haunting melody of the pipes have drifted across the playing fields of St Andrew’s College and out over the rest of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape.

The sound conjures up a picture of a bygone era that is still very much part of the school. The oldest school pipe band in the country, the St Andrew’s College Pipe Band dates back to 1938. Since its inception, it has formed part of the cadet corps – which, to this day, remains a vital aspect of the band. The continuation today of the cadets and the pipe band has more to do with maintaining tradition and instilling discipline than any military motive. The pipe band provides the musical accompaniment to the cadet parades.

Even ‘Preppies’ play the pipes

The genesis of the St Andrew’s College Pipe Band can be traced back to Patrick Terry, who taught himself how to play the pipes without any help. He began a programme of instruction, teaching others how to read music and utilise the correct finger movements. More recently, Ross Hoole continued this tradition by teaching a number of boys from St Andrew’s Preparatory School how to play the pipes, which has meant that those continuing on to college already have a basic knowledge.

DSG girls do too!

The year 1994 saw the first girl, Christine Harris – a student at St Andrew’s sister school, the Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) in Grahamstown – become a member of the college pipe band. Since then, there has always been at least one girl in the band. Sarah Kirk, a current drummer, enjoys being part of something so traditional. Although she is one of only two girls in the band at present, she says, “I feel like any other member of the band who loves what we do.”

An exacting ensemble

Learning to play the pipes demands a great deal of self-discipline and concentration from those who play them. It is a difficult ensemble to join, and the result is a highly motivated and passionate team who work hard and strive for excellence. Piper Richard Hobson asserts that playing the pipes requires “time, patience and hard work”. He adds that “the bagpipes are a great way to escape the world around you; when I play, it is as if everything around me disappears and I can have some time to myself, and enjoy my own music”.

Ulindelwe Ratsibe joined the band to stretch his musical horizons and feels that the pipe band has “rewarded [me] with a new skill and helped me gain friends for life”. Ratsibe hopes to continue playing the drums in a pipe band once he has left St Andrew’s, and perhaps even to teach tenor drumming. Hobson agrees: “I have no intention of giving up my playing, even though future experiences will never be the same as the experiences which I have had with this band.”

Experiences to last a lifetime

In August 2014, the band travelled to Glasgow, Scotland to take part in the Glasgow International Piping Festival,1 the biggest week of piping and traditional music in the world. Some 8 000 performers from 150 countries around the world participated in over 200 events to an audience of over 50 000 spectators. The St Andrew’s College Pipe Band competed as an adult band, as some of the players were 18 years old at the time of the competition. The competing band comprised 19 Grahamstown-based players including the talented Chris Terry, eight Durban-based players and David Springer, an Old Andrean and current Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

The band was lucky enough to take part in two other piping contests. At the North Berwick Games2 and the Perth Highlands Games,3 the band did their school and country proud.

Another highlight of the tour was the band’s participation in a parade for the Scottish national athletics team, who had just participated in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.4 It was an exceptional experience as the band marched a couple of kilometres through the centre of Glasgow, behind another band, leading several floats full of athletes through a throng of thousands and thousands of cheering spectators. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the boys and girls of St Andrew’s College and DSG. Richard Hobson received a trophy commemorating the band’s participation in this march.

The pipe band: past, present and future

Back at home, the band performs for the greater Grahamstown community and pipers are often asked to play at weddings, funerals and other significant occasions. The band takes part in Memorial Sunday every year with the South African Defence Force, and assists it as much as possible when it requires a parade band.

The St Andrew’s College Pipe Band fills a space where the old and new meet; a space steeped in tradition and a place where every member becomes part of something bigger than themselves. Chris Terry, who also crafts bagpipes, is one Old Andrean who taught many pipers and still plays with the band. He told Independent Education: “The more you put in, the more you get out. I have put a lot in; I have got far more out.

“For a piping teacher, there are few pleasures in life that exceed the satisfaction of listening to someone you have taught produce a performance beyond your own capabilities. “Having learned to play the pipes at St Andrew’s College myself years ago, I have been lucky to be able to teach many others the skills that have so enriched my own life. Through piping I have travelled the world, met many of my greatest friends, and marvelled at how piping transcends barriers such as gender, age, race, nationality and religion. As a teacher you are a small but important part in continuing the centuries-old piping tradition, and in teaching young pipers, I hope to give them the ability to become part of this remarkable tradition.”


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Category: Summer 2014

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  1. Robert Coss says:

    It brought back many happy memories for me to hear the St. Andrews Pipe Band on YouTube! Chris Terry and I used to play together those years ago in Grahamstown and since I’m now 77 years old and living in Dorset UK I still play for the odd funeral, wedding and Burns Nicht.I am at present on holiday in New Zealand and have recently visited South Africa in Oct-Nov 2014.Please contact me Chris on email —
    Kind regards,
    Robbie Coss.

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