Sunday, September 16, 2018

Chapter 3 - Brasil Caledonia

The new generation of players that was under training was still not ready when the band started to compete in 2010 in the newly created South American pipe band competition, promoted by SPBASA. The band finished last, with Argentina’s Highland Thistle band deservedly winning first prize. However, two years later, in Buenos Aires, another South American competition took place and by then we could field some very good players of our new generation of pipers and drummers. The band won that contest becoming Brazil’s first SPBASA Cup champion and capturing also the trophy for the best pipe corps.

The South American championships was to remain our main competition objective for the next few years, as it was much more financially accessible for our band than traveling to compete in the UK. And we were still having a taste of a real Scottish competition, as the adjudicators were brought from UK and North America.

In 2015, Brasil Caledonia were hosts to the first pipe band gathering in Brazilian soil, held in São Paulo. Adjudicators were Roddy MacLeod, Jamie Troy and David Wilton. In preparation for this event, and foreseeing that a number of bands mainly in the state of Rio de Janeiro could possibly participate but needed some help to be in line with the gathering musical requirements, I designed Rio Piping Hot. This event, held in Petrópolis in March 2015 had Ken Eller as our illustrious guest. Rio Piping Hot 2 also with Ken Eller was held in Petropolis in October 2017. Thanks to Rio Piping Hot 1, bands that were away from South American gatherings had a chance to effectively participate in such events, starting with the one held in SP. As a result of this effort, two civilian bands from Rio (Wolney Highlanders and Brazilian Piper), plus the Brazilian Marine band from Rio and the band of the Presidential Guard Battalion from Brasilia, all with pipe corps, ended up participating in the Brazil gathering in 2015, which had a record of 11 bands coming from Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Brasil Caledonia finished 3rdoverall, winning first prize in the medley contest and retaining the shield for best pipe corps.

The Brazil gathering also helped us to connect to the civilian bands in Rio, which were doing social work with the local impoverished “favela” communities, and as such were helping to keep boys away from drug and crime, especially Brazilian Piper band. Another positive outcome was to get the Brazilian army and navy bands involved, as this would speed up their musical evolution on the pipes.

The latest update to Brasil Caledonia’s competition results was a 2ndplace overall in the 2017 South American Pipe Band gathering held in Santiago, Chile. The band also placed 1stin the march medley contest. This gathering had a very special meaning to me as both a solo piping and a solo drumming competition was held for the first time in SPBASA gatherings. Our players kept the band’s tradition of getting the best results for Brazil in all competitions both band and solos, and all the prizes of the solo piping contest went to Brasil Caledonia, with myself finishing 3rdand my former pupils and now band mates Carlos Miranda and Nicholas Reis finishing 1stand 2ndrespectively.  

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Scottish Link Years

Chapter 2

The Scottish Link Pipe Band (SLPB) came into being in July 1995, with five pipers and four drummers, at a musical festival held in the mountain resort of Campos do Jordão, state of São Paulo. The place and occasion had been carefully selected by Cristiano Bicudo to attract powerful sponsors that would ensure logistic support and the flow of more funds to the band in the following years. British Airways, Johnnie Walker Red Label and Cultura Inglesa were in their mighty sponsorship portfolio. This plan, as well as the training programme, proved both so successful that the band doubled its size in 1996 and it considered traveling to Scotland to compete.

In August 1997, the SLPB with a crew of fourteen players, made its debut  at the grade 4 competition in Perth, and a week later at the World Championships on Glasgow Green, the very first time a South American band had  competed at the Worlds. Even Drum-Major Ronaldo Artnic competed in Perth! Competition results were understandably not good, but the trip also included band workshops at the newly inaugurated Piping Centre, with piping instructors Roddy MacLeod, Angus MacDonald, Jim MacLean and Dougie Pincock. The drumming instructor was Ian Thompson (Power of Scotland). An assessment of the band’s work was also made by Joe Noble and Iain MacLellan. The workshops made all the difference. The sheer amount of information the band gathered and precious musical advice it got in that visit to Scotland was gigantic, and pretty much shaped its musical work for the next years. And apart from the serious stuff, there were also many moments of good humour. Cristiano recalls the way Angus MacDonald introduced him to Roddy MacLeod. "Angus, who knew me since the 1992 lessons at the College of Piping, and in 1999 gave me excellent advice for my P/M duties, said in his typical mood to Roddy “This is the gentleman who started a pipe band in the jungle in Brazil!”. Not too far from the truth…"

The band would return to Scotland two years later in 1999 for another round of Piping Centre workshops and competitions, this time doing much better and finishing 8th out of 26 bands in an amalgamated Grade 4 contest in Bridge of Allan. At the Worlds, the band placed 10th out of 36 bands in Grade 4b. The band also won the SPBA March and Discipline Shield at the Worlds that year, a sweet trophy for an overseas band that rendered a beer celebration at Glasgow’s Drum & Monkey Pub in St. Vincent Street, the pub owner being one of the supporters; so the bass drum carried its logo.

1999 was also the last year of the bands successful annual appearances at the Campos do Jordão music festival, mainly due to Diageo (Johnnie Walker) but sadly not supporting these presentations anymore. These Campos do Jordão presentations had been an important fund raiser for SLPB trips to Scotland, so no more appearances at the festival also meant that we would be absent from the competitions in Scotland for sometime, although Johnnie Walker still required our presentations occasionally, for the Brazilian Grand Prix and their whisky festivals…those were however much more commercial gigs with less budget and not the same musical environment that had boosted the band when it started in Campos.

If sponsorship was declining, on the other hand, musical production was flourishing. After returning from the Scotland tour in 1999, Cristiano began making pipe band arrangements for two well known Brazilian “baião” style songs originally composed by Luiz Gonzaga: “Asa Branca” and “Baião de Dois”. These would form a set that would be called“The Brazilian Set”. The inspiration for this came from successful attempts of creating contemporary bagpipe music that cannot be classified as marches, strathspeys, reel, jigs and slow airs etc, such as 78th’s hit “Journey to Skye” and FMM’s “Steam Train to Mallaig”. In Cristiano's words,"I wanted more or less the same rhythmic effect and climax, so while I borrowed some of the main  parts of Gonzaga’s original compositions, some entirely new parts had to be composed to reach the desired effect. The final musical result with added harmonies and drums was great and the set naturally became our show stopper."

In 2000, in cooperation with the St Andrew Society of Rio de Janeiro, the SLPB played in the first South American Highland Games, held in Barra, Rio de Janeiro, and almost entirely funded by St Andrews Rio president James Frew. At the time, some guests from other South American countries, as well as another band with pipes turned up, the latter being the band of the Brazilian Marines, which used the pipes in a similar way as BMWA. "This was my first actual contact with them, although they were not exactly new to me as BMWA got instruction from Marine pipers at their start, both bands playing with technique borrowed from other conventional woodwind instruments due to lack of Highland bagpipe instructors in Brazil. "

The following years saw SLPB performing mostly for the British community events in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and getting involved in the formation of South America’s first pipe band association, SPBASA, in which Cristiano represented SLPB and the interests of the whole Brazilian branch of the same association, for no other Brazilian band was given membership. The SLPB was still Brazil’s first and only pipe band!

The Scottish Link Pipe Band in Sao Paulo under Pipe Major Norman MacDonald (left)

In 2002, Cristiano stepped down as P/M of the band to invite Norman MacDonald, a former member of Muirhead & Sons PB,who was working near SP, to take over as P/M. At the same time his brother Marcus (with the departure of our previous L/D Edinei Lima), took over the drum corps with Norman’s friend Gordon Craig offering drum instruction.

With Norman MacDonald as Pipe Major and Cristiano Bicudo as P/S, SLPB attended three South American gatherings in a row, in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, and by 2007, the Scottish Link finally made it to Scotland and the Worlds. Results, however, were disappointing and the political situation of the band became unstable.

The Scottish Link competing in Chile at the SA Championships

In 2008, Cristiano reassumed as P/M and the challenge was to keep the band together.

It was a bit late for this. By the beginning of 2009 a split occurred that left the band with half of its members and no sponsors at all. Many of the members decided to leave and join a newly formed band supported by the St Andrew Society of São Paulo. This was devastating. At this time, a few “retired” SLPB members immediately responded to the split by coming back to active duty to help the band recover. By doing so, they gave the SLPB some much needed oxygen and allowed a promising new generation of pupils to be trained by Cristiano and Marcus. In addition, to mark this new phase, the band changed its name to Brasil Caledonia, but kept our Cunningham tartan kilts.

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

Saturday, September 21, 2013

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!

Using the Blair Digital Chanter