Burns an 'a' that

Robert Burns Night, honoring the poet's 251st birthday, to be held Saturday at Centennial Hall

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Take some kilts, bagpipes and drums, add some haggis, an ample amount of whiskey and Highland dancing, sprinkle it with some 18th century poetry and you've got yourself the makings of a spectacular Scottish-style celebration.

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All of the aforementioned will be part of the Robert Burns Night celebration on Saturday at Centennial Hall, the biannual fundraiser for the local Scottish band Stroller White Pipes & Drums. Doors open at 6 p.m.

"All in all it makes for a pretty full evening," said band president Rai Behnert.

Robert Burns nights are held in communities around the globe around the birthday of the legendary Scottish poet that died more than 200 years ago. He was born Jan. 25, 1759, and died at the age of 37 on July 21, 1796.

"For Scots people, tradition is very important and (Burns Night) is a reason to gather," said Laurie Gardner, pipe major for Stroller White Pipes & Drums. "It's a great way to bring Scottish community and anyone who wants to be Scottish for the evening together. It's kind of like St. Patrick's would be for the Irish."

Burns, who wrote the popular song "Auld Lang Syne" that is traditionally played when the clock strikes midnight on New Years, has remained a popular cultural icon since his death. He wrote more than 250 songs and poems and is regarded as Scotland's national poet.

"It's quite popular among Scots and wannabe Scots," Behnert said. "As to the fundamental reason why he remains popular? I guess you have to read his poetry to start with and beyond that it's a mystery. But it's a good excuse to have a party in the middle of the winter."

Stroller White Pipes & Drums is cooking up an evening Saturday that is stuffed with tradition and celebration that will include song, dance and merrymaking. The band will begin around 6:30 and will be accompanied by some Highland dancers.

Gardner, who is also the dance major, said they will have 24 dancers performing Saturday night, the largest group its fielded to date.

"They're at all different levels," she said. "We have nine new students ages five to eight. Than we have other more advanced kids all the way up to teenagers that have been dancing for probably over 10 years. They are far more advanced and know far more intricate dances."

There will also be an opportunity for audience participation through a group dance with caller Odette Foster.

The band will also feature nearly a half-dozen drummers and 12 pipers, three of whom have yet to perform at a Burns Night, Gardner said.

"It's the largest number of pipers that we've ever fielded as well," she said.

There will be a blend of traditional Scottish tunes, some of Burns poetry, and even some original bagpipe compositions written by Behnert that will be performed, Gardner said.

"The band is always working on new material and we have some new tunes that we will be playing," she said.

Silvia DeTar and Sarah Mclatchy from the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band will also be performing Saturday and on hand to partake in the celebration.

"They just took the world championship at the Grade 1 level, which is quite an accomplishment in the piping circles," Behnert said.

And Robert Burns Night wouldn't be complete without the "Ode to the Haggis," and the traditional Scottish meal that will follow. For those wary of the dish that is traditionally simmered in sheep's stomach, there will also be a vegetarian variety to feast upon.

And then there's the whiskey tasting, which Behnert said, "has been real popular."

"There will be a great variety of Highland malts, some Irish Whiskey and some Scottish Ales as well," he said.

There will also be a no host bar available.

Stroller White Pipes & Drums has become an institution in Juneau over the years. Started in 1979 by Rob McMahon and Ladd Macaulay, the band has grown into a nonprofit organization that performs around the community throughout the year as well as providing educational opportunities.

"They selected the name Stroller White after the colorful figure from the Klondike days and also the mountain that was named after him," Behnert said, who has been its president since the early 1980s.

Robert Burns Night is held on a biannual basis in Juneau and is the band's main fundraiser to help it maintain its mission.

"We don't have a huge stockpile of funds and we work pretty close to the bone. It's a huge volunteer effort to put any of this together and it's quite a financial contribution by each household too that's involved with it," Gardner said.

Tickets cost $30 in advance for adults and $35 at the door. Tickets cost $20 in advance for children and $25 at the door. Children 2 years of age and under get in free. Tickets for all active military cost $20.

There will also be a silent auction to help raise funds.

All in all, Robert Burns Night is a wonderful event for the whole family to enjoy that is open to everyone, Gardner said.

"It's fun for all ages. Kids love it," she said. "We don't get many opportunities to experience such a broad range of Scottish culture and tradition in one night."

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