Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cristiano Bicudo - The Early Years

Chapter 1

His interest in the pipes started in 1982, when he was 14. This is more or less the age when teenagers decide to try some instrument to play in a rock band. However, after digging for some vinyl in a record shop in São Paulo, something else captured his attention: an LP published by the Capitol International Series with the generic title “Scottish Pipes!”, including tracks with solos by P/M Donald Shaw Ramsay.

Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay

This is Cristiano Bicudo's story, as related by himself, so read on!

There were also tracks with pipe bands (City of Glasgow Police PB and 2nd Batt. Scots Guards) in that same record, but those were not very catchy as the quality of the open air recording was not really good. However, P/M Ramsay’s solos, and in particular his Sean Truibhais, left such an impression on me that I was soon pressing my parents for some support to learn the pipes. Both mum and dad were supportive (lucky me!), but I would soon discover that learning the pipes would not be an easy challenge in SP, first because of the total lack of local instructors and second because sets of pipes and related supplies were simply not available in Brazil.

The British Caledonia Airways Pipe Band

I believe just when my interest was starting to decline given these obstacles, something outstanding happened that same year: British Caledonian Airways PB visited SP and played out in the streets, actually just a few blocks from where I lived! Winning the lottery is easier than having a grade one band playing near you in South America. So, with this incredible stroke of luck, it was only natural that I would see B-Cal and my involvement in piping would start from there… except for the fact that none of that happened! I did not actually get to see them, because I was having exams at school at exactly the same time they were playing. That was heartbreaking for me, but in a way it hardened my determination to learn the pipes.

B-Cal Parading in Sao Paulo in 1982

My dad had made it clear to me that I had to find an instructor in Brazil. After some research, at some point in 1983 I did find one person willing to give me lessons, in fact a Brazilian bagpipe enthusiast, Michel Nahas. Without pipes or a practice chanter, I did not have more than a couple of lessons with him. He, however, told me to wait for the arrival in SP of his mentor, John Martin. John was a British Caledonian Airways piper that had come with B-Cal band a year before and who started visiting SP on a yearly basis to play for the St. Andrew Society of the State of São Paulo. John Martin had become a mentor not only for Michel, but also for a handful of Brazilian bagpipe enthusiasts in SP who gathered to see the B-Cal band in their 1982 SP visit (the one I missed!). Through John, who was delighted to meet a Brazilian enthusiast who was younger than the average (the others were in their 30s), I got my first set of pipes in 1984 (D. Naill) plus a RSPBA manual and a practice chanter. Not only that, he also invited myself and my brother Marcos to visit the UK the following year and stay for a month in his family home in Ashford, Kent. From there, he would take us to Scotland and he would show us all we wanted to know about piping and pipe bands. With my parents’ blessing and financial support, my brother (who started to get interested in playing the drums) and I, went to the UK in early 1985. The trip was more tourism than anything else, but was fantastic in times when there was no internet. Although it was winter in the UK (this was the time of the year we Brazilians had school holidays and were able to travel abroad), John made a tremendous effort to properly introduce us to the Scottish piping and drumming scene. He gave us good recordings of some top pipe bands, he supplied us with pipe band publications and books, he took us to B-Cal’s band practices in Gatwick airport, to regimental museums in Edinburgh, indoor competitions in Glasgow… and last but not least, he also took us to the College of Piping in Glasgow, which he recommended as the place for us (my brother and myself) to get started on the pipes and drums. All that was overwhelming for two boys from Brazil.

The College of Piping, Glasgow

Following John’s recommendation, my brother and myself returned to the UK in our next school holidays in early 1986 for two months of intensive lessons at the College of Piping in Glasgow. At the old College, we could finally get properly started and we thus became the first Brazilians to have formal piping and drumming instruction in Scotland (or in fact anywhere else). My instructor for the most part was Eddie MacLellan,

Cristiano and instructor Eddie MacLellan,
College of Piping, Glasgow, 1986

 I also had a few lessons straight from Seumas MacNeill and one lesson with Thomas Pearston. Eddie was a great instructor, very patient and supportive. Despite his age, his fingers moved beautifully on the chanter, and seeing that, made me understand that a lot of work was needed on the chanter before even touching the pipes. Seumas in his turn, usually wrapped up his lessons with attractive historical notes. My brother’s instructor was drumming legendary Alex Duthart. What a great time we had at the College! 

Seumas MacNeill

Alex Duthart

We had another similar round of intensive lessons in early 1987. Sadly, Alex Duthart had passed away, but Seumas then got Duthart’s band mate Robert (Bert) Barr for my brother’s drumming lessons. 1986 and 1987 were in this way decisive years for myself and my brother in terms of piping and drumming instruction. After that, a 5-year gap in our instruction would take place as we were entering the university and this required us to stay in Brazil, far from our Scottish musical masters.

Cristiano, 1986

Cristiano and Marcos Bicudo, 2017

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Piping in Brazil


Cristiano Bicudo and Myself

This past October I had the wonderful opportunity to travel through Brazil with Cristiano Bicudo. We met in Rio de Janeiro, travelled to Petropolis, back to Rio and on to Sao Paulo, with a couple of days spent in the modern capital of Brasilia; a 22 day experience. I asked Cristiano to follow up with his understanding of the history of piping in Brazil, so that those not familiar may appreciate the rich pedigree of events, bands and people along the way.


A Brief History of Highland Piping and Drumming in Brazil
by Cristiano Bicudo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The first pipers to arrive in Brazil were Portuguese at the time of our discovery in 1500. They obviously did not play Highland pipes but their own Portuguese version of the instrument. Galician piper Carlos Nunez developed an interesting theory, by which he claims that the Northeast of Brazil kept elements of the original music of Celtic influence that landed here with the Portuguese pipers in the 1500s. These elements, according to him, are still present in traditional Brazilian types of music like baiao. However, the bagpipe itself did not survive as an instrument of Brazilian music, being replaced mainly by the accordion.
But when did the Highland pipes make its first appearance in Brazil?

This may have occurred at some point in the 1800s, after Brazil declared its independence (1822). Britain was a traditional ally of Portugal and it continued to be an ally and trading partner of Brazil for most of the 19th century. If no Scottish piper reached our shores in the times of our Empire, on the other hand, there is no doubt that it occurred in the times of the Republic in the early 20th century. At that time, British investments increased considerably in Brazil, and many executives of Scottish origin were sent here. Following this, two St Andrew Societies were founded, one in Rio de Janeiro (1906) and the other one in So Paulo (1924). The St Andrew Society in SP keeps a record of the few pipers who played for the society in those days. They were all native Scots just like the rest of the members of the society and provided the entertainment for events like Burns suppers, St Andrews Day celebrations, etc. There is even a report of one of them giving chanter lessons at the local British school in SP in the 60s or 70s, but this was totally out of reach for the average Brazilian, so this initiative of the British community did not succeed.

Gradually over the years these Scottish pipers ceased their musical activities in SP because of age or because they were sent back to the UK. So much that by the late 70s and through most of the 80s, St Andrew Society of SP piping was entirely provided by pipers from the British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band flown in straight from the UK for their events.
Meanwhile, another initiative, entirely independent from the local British communities, was taking shape, as the Brazilian Navy got hold of a large number of sets of Highland pipes in 1951 and wanted to put them to use in their existing marine band based in Rio de Janeiro. It is not very clear how the Brazilian navy got hold of the sets of pipes; it might have been a present from the Royal Navy. Anyway, the pipes were left untouched for some years because of a total lack of instruction.
Eventually, the Brazilian marine band musicians learned the pipes on their own; self taught, probably borrowing technique from other conventional woodwind instruments. This improvised bagpipe technique remained in the Brazilian navy band for decades, probably meeting the requirements of the conductor of their martial band, but certainly keeping them away from the historical technique of the pipes. This prevented them from studying and playing the more intricate types of Highland music like jigs, strathspeys and reels. 
Nevertheless, the marine band did have an impact on Brazilian civilian martial bands. In the 60s and 70s, there are reports of some Scottish bands popping up in the South and Southeast of Brazil, in the national league of fanfares and martial bands, most likely a fashion of those days. (So much that special rules for martial bands with bagpipes were enacted in the national league championship regulations!). There were at least five such bands:
  1. Banda do Colgio Corao de Maria from Santos, State of Sao Paulo
  2. Banda Corao de Maria from Santa Maria, State of Rio Grande do Sul (though similarly named bands, they are two different groups name is common amongst Christian schools in Brazil)
  3. Banda Escocesa do Colgio So Carlos, from Caxias do Sul, State of Rio Grande do Sul
  4. Banda Marcial Wolney Aguiar (BMWA), based in Petropolis, State of Rio de Janeiro
  5. Drages Iguauanos, from Nova Iguau, State of Rio de Janeiro.
Of note, the first three were made up of girls only. With no exceptions they were all bands that had adopted Highland outfits and a Scottish theme, but were for the most part only carrying sets of pipes or playing simple marches. One of these bands, however, went a bit further. BMWA initially played Galician bagpipes, but in the late 1960s they acquired sets of Highland pipes and got instruction straight from navy pipers in Rio. By doing so, they also adopted the same style of improvised technique for the pipes that had been created by the Brazilian navy band. On the other hand, unlike the navy band, they attempted to play more Scottish tunes in an authentic way. The lack of instructors, nevertheless, was once again a major obstacle for their musical evolution. This did not stop them from becoming famous in their hometown of Petrpolis with a large pipe corps of 10 pipers plus. And who would have thought, piping would establish a firm root in that town to this day, thanks to the musical work of BMWA! They were undoubtedly the most successful civilian band to play the pipes in Brazil for many years. The other bands in the list gradually adopted other musical themes and styles or simply disappeared when the Scottish fashion vanished.

The next band initiative to take place in Brazil didn't occur until the mid 1990s with the Scottish Link Pipe Band (SLPB) from SP, Brazil. SLPB had no relation with any of the previous initiatives and was the direct result of my brother Marcos and myself first having contact with British Caledonian Airways piper John Martin in the mid 80s and subsequent formal lessons at the College of Piping in Glasgow. SLPB made an impact on the bands that were playing pipes in Brazil at the time, none of them being real pipe bands. BMWA was in contact with SLPB from our very beginning. Later, marine piper J Paulo Filho (from Rio) visited me in SP and realized that a number of changes could be implemented with the pipe corps of the navy band. The navy bands 2011 visit to Scotland to participate in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo helped to connect them with pipe bands abroad. But it was only after J Paulo retired from the navy that he could himself pursue his own piping dreams.

He started teaching the pipes to students of a school in Sao Goncalo (Vieira Brum) and went on to form a band made up with boys of the more impoverished areas of that same town (favelas). His social project flourished with very few resources and was renamed Brazilian Piper, setting standards for other similar initiatives in Sao Goncalo.

In 2009, a split of the SLPB band created the St Andrew Society of Sao Paulo Pipes and Drums, and three years later a split in the St Andrews band created a third pipe band in the city of SP, the Sao Paulo Scots.

So all these Brazilian band initiatives have roots outside the British community, which is interesting as in both Argentina and Uruguay the local bands evolved directly from the local British and Scottish communities, many of their members retaining British surnames from their ancestors. Not being directly rooted in the local British and Scottish communities in Brazil allowed Brazilian pipe bands to keep their own musical identity, having great respect for the Scottish traditional repertoire, but also including some Brazilian tunes of their own in their shows.

Cristiano & his brother Marcos - front left

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fall Fusion Workshops - November 9, 2013

Fall Fusion

Fall Fusion, the successful creation of the Paris/Port Dover Pipe Band in 2012 is once again up and running. Reserve the date - November 9, 2013 - Brantford, Ontario.

The list of instructors is impressive - Willie McCallum, Mike Grey, Bob Worrall, Ellen Mole, Ed Neigh and Ken Eller for piping; Andrew Elliot, Kate Dudek and Johnny Rowe for bass and tenor; Hugh Cameron and Doug Stronach for side drumming.

Willie McCallum, 8 time Glenfiddich champion will be in recital after the day's events.

For further information, please contact

Darlene :

Go to the website:

See you there!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Down Under for a Spell...

Australia Bound
It has been a while since the last entry here... no excuses, except so much travel this past couple of months and my attention to all details has slipped. The one thing about "piping travel" is the friends, both old and new, that you meet or acquire. Just recently I had the good fortune of visiting Edmonton, Alberta - cool and dry and at elevation. The pitch of the pipe changes - dryness means increased hydration - and ouch, my lips started to chap and worse yet, my chanter reeds dried out. Time to pour water into those Ross canisters and control the top hand pitch! The weekend coincided with St. Patrick's Day, so the Saturday was alive with all those "once a year" patriots of the auld sod - Donegal, Claire, Cork, Galway, Connemara... and everywhere in Erin.... Sunday was actually a relief! Then on to Denver... the "Mile High City", and if I ever thought Edmonton's elevation was a challenge, then Denver's 5200 ft. literally blew me away. Playing at a ceilidh on the Saturday evening on pipes much too demanding for this old feller, just about flattened me...I managed, but not without the occasional choke... a new found respect for all those playing high above sea level. This must be what the long distance athletes all call high altitude training... NOT for us mortals!

This week I leave for Victoria in Australia where I will have the privilege of judging the Australian Pipe Band Championships being staged in Ballarat. To say that I am pumped, is an under statement. Having never been to Australia, I am looking with interest to the events - a very large entry - world class performances in all grades. I have many friends in the area and I look forward to visiting and taking in the sights in the days that follow, with even a little bit of touring into the McLaren Vale wine district. If you haven't noticed my life passions, in order

Piping, Fly Fishing and Red Wine!

 Now what can be the matter with that? Will keep you posted on my return - pics and stories should be plentiful.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

... When Longevity Means .... YOU!

Clyde - the mascot of Triumph Street
I received an email this past week from my very good friend Allan Skalazub from Vancouver:

Greetings, Ken,
Hope you are well and enjoying the holiday season.
I was wondering if you might put a wee mention in your blog
about the 40th anniversary of the Triumph Street Pipe Band.
We made our debut at the BC Pipers Indoor Meet at Easter of 1972.

We are having a get together to commemorate the anniversary on March 17, 2012 in Burnaby, BC.  All friends, supporters and ex-members are welcome and can receive more information by contacting me at

Clan MacFarlane 50th Anniversary - 2007
This really got me thinking!  First of all, I would encourage all those former players and friends from way back in the 70's to plan on attending. The first reunion a few years ago was a huge success. Longevity in pipe bands is a fleeting thing. The fact that most of the former players are still active in the scene says volumes in itself...

I was reminded of the 50th anniversary of my own band, The Clan MacFarlane. We counted the TSPB as our closest friends - not competitors - together, we could entertain, party and play with the best. Heaven knows, the motels in Santa Rosa must still be buzzin'.

Now to my point - bands come and go, but people do not. It is a blessing to reach that stage in life when you can truthfully say "I remember when" or "I was there".

Triumph Street was part of the fabric of the Canadian and World pipe band scene in the 70's. Congratulations to all the former members of that crew headed by Hal Senyk and Willie McErlean ... and in case you don't believe I was there, I remember when I was gifted a T- shirt by Triumph Street:

All the best to the Triumph Street Pipe Band of the 70's

Thanks for the reflections, The Captain

Friday, December 16, 2011

... RIP... The Gaelic College, St. Ann's, Nova Scotia

The Gaelic College, St. Ann's, Nova Scotia
The Gaelic College in St. Ann's has been the centre of Cape Breton teaching for almost 2/3 of a century. Some of the best pipers, drummers, fiddlers, dancers, Gaelic educators and more have taught students from far and wide. I spent many summers myself there as an instructor... many happy weeks each year soaking up the ambience of the Cape Breton culture. Piping flourished. It is not a stretch of the truth to say that almost every piper of note from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick most likely attended a session or two at the venerable institution. Enough said glorifying its past!

Highland Piping has just been removed from the curriculum to be replaced by Cape Breton (kitchenpiping) ! What next?

Thinking of its future as a bastion of piping excellence is more like preparing a eulogy for a close friend.  I have been following the thread in and I just shake my head. One responder was bold enough to infer Cape Breton piping as the only true form from centuries ago. He cites Barry Shears' book on the topic, which reads as a mythical fable for those who couldn't make it in the bigs! I have read the book with an open mind... and there began my problem...the author and his sources are totally polarized on this other (older) style of piping and imply heavily that competitive styles have all but completely divorced themselves from the tradition. There is no hint of a liberal opinion on all forms of piping. Hogwash!

Tradition or more aptly, living traditions evolve. There is a need for sound technical and rhythmic tuition in the present sense to effectively play styles like that found historically in Cape Breton. To stop one in favour of another is a huge regressive step.  The administrators of the College must be reminded that the Shears book is based on ill founded assumptions! Piobaireachd was the music of the Highland pipe at the time of the clearances in the 1700's when immigration started... there was also light music for the dancing.... competitive light music evolved after the fact. The short sighted College admin has chosen to single out only one branch of the great music at the exclusion of all others. If they were true to their mandate, it would be piobaireachd rather than kitchenpiping to survive these troubled times.

For Shame...  I fear they will live to regret it.

Before I close, have a look at Michael Grey's Blog on this site or found at Dunaber Music.

Mike is worthy of the following quote:

"There’s great glory and tradition and, dare I say, Gaelic-ness to today’s “competitive” bagpipe music. It’s a rich, lively tradition with huge vibrancy. It evolves. It moves forward. It influences, even CB fiddlers – whether they know it or not."

.... a full shillings worth, don't you think?

You might consider going to PipesDrums as well. Pay special attention to the comments of others.

Of note, I was asked to join the faculty for 2012. NOT! I am not qualified to teach Cape Breton piping, assuming it is defined as being aligned with the fiddle... nor are 99% of all the pipers in existence today. Unfortunately, to wish them well in this misguided adventure would imply there was a realistic opportunity for success. So let the College RIP.

Cristiano Bicudo - The Early Years

Chapter 1 His  interest in the pipes started in 1982, when he was 14. This is more or less the age when teenagers decide to try some i...