P.A. pipers to face their largest-ever crowd in Shanghai

Tyler Clarke
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With members more excited than nervous, millions of eyes will be on the Prince Albert Highlanders Pipes and Drums in Shanghai, China, next month.


On Sept. 13, local pipers will march through central Shanghai to help hick off the Shanghai International Tourism Festival, for which they will represent Canada.

“Imagine all the pomp and circumstance that you see with the opening ceremony of the Olympics -- it’s very similar to these festivals,” pipe sergeant Michael McLaughlan said, “quite excited” to board a plane for the group’s latest adventure.

Shanghai’s population is more than 24 million and the parade will be broadcast live throughout China -- a nation that boasts a population of 1.35 billion.

Although next month’s parade will be the biggest-ever for the local pipe group, it’s far from their first kick at international performance.

Averaging one international trip every couple years, the group’s last big trip was in 2013, when they performed at the Beijing International Tourism Festival’s parade.

Prior to their 2013 performance, the mayor of Beijing and other government officials and leaders auditioned performers to determine their order -- the best and flashiest closer to the front.

“Interestingly, we were selected as the first to lead the Beijing parade, so they must have liked what they saw,” McLaughlan said.

“As pipes and drums, we’re very loud -- We’re very colorful because of all our kilts and uniforms … and we also had a colour party, with people carrying flags of all of our provinces and the Canadian flag, of course.”

The parade officials must have been satisfied with their decision, with the group of local pipers invited to perform again, next month.

The 20 to 25-member Prince Albert Highlanders Pipes and Drums group will be joined by about 50 pipers, drummers dancers and colour party members from throughout Western and Central Canada.

Imagine all the pomp and circumstance that you see with the opening ceremony of the Olympics -- it’s very similar to these festivals. Michael McLaughlan

“Our colour party is able to wave and smile, so it’s not just a performance of pipes and drums, it’s that much more, which (organizers) got really excited about.”

With the P.A. pipers taking the lead, the group of about 76 will meet a couple days prior to their Sept. 13 performance to learn the local group’s routine -- a blend of “the best of the 17, 18 and 1900s of Scotland and Ireland,” McLaughlan described.

It’s a trip the local pipers have been preparing themselves for over the course of the last year-and-a-half, McLaughlan said.

In addition to the ins and outs of preparing a routine are all of the little things that add up, he said, noting that culture shock is a major component, with everything from washrooms to food different in China than Canada.

Then, there’s the process of obtaining a Chinese performance Visa, available only to those invited to perform in China, which the P.A. group was.

These are hoops to jump through, though McLaughlan said that it will all be worthwhile in the end.

“Probably the biggest thing out of the experience is our ability to exchange our culture with those of the other locations we’re going, and meeting people across Canada.”

The Prince Albert Highlanders Pipes and Drums formed in 1983 and consist of members from Shellbrook, Spruce Home, Melfort, Tisdale, Duck Lake, Meadow Lake, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. 

Organizations: Visa, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Shanghai, Canada, China Beijing Western and Central Canada Scotland Ireland Shellbrook Duck Lake Meadow Lake Saskatoon

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