Burns reigns when the Scots come marching in

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2000

The resounding blast of bagpipes and drums will open the Robbie Burns Night festivities Saturday.

Not many poets are honored as grandly as Scottish poet Robbie Burns. But Burns has become a kind of patron saint of Scotland, and Robbie Burns night is a celebration of Burns, Scotland and all things Scottish.

The event Saturday night at Centennial Hall will include music, poetry, dinner, dancing and dance performance.

``It's a good party,'' said Juneau writer David Hunsaker.

Hunsaker will play the small Scottish pipes Saturday, a cousin to the large Scottish bagpipes played by the Stroller White Pipe, Drum and Dance group. Stroller White will perform before and after dinner, which features the traditional Scottish dish haggis.

A ceremonial reading of Burns' ``Address to Haggis'' accompanies the focal point of the traditional Scottish meal. The haggis, a Scottish meat dish, is paraded out to a bagpipe tune.

Traditional haggis is made with sheep parts, including the kidneys, lungs and tripe, then baked in a sheep stomach. Juneau Haggis-maker Rai Behnert has developed the Juneau Burns-night version from more common ingredients. Behnert's recipe calls for heart, liver, chopped beef, suet, rolled oats, onions, potatoes, parsley and seasonings.

Rai Behnert has helped with the Burns night since the original potluck celebration in 1980.

``He's our major haggis maker. It gets better every year. It really does,'' said Laurie Whistler, one of the Juneau organizers.

Hunsaker's grandparents were Scottish, and he's no stranger to the dish.

``I was actually raised eating this stuff,'' he said. ``We made it out of deer.''

Food leads to recitations of Burns poetry and song, which moves on to song and dance. Jamie McLean and others will read Burns poetry and Joyce Parry Moore will sing some of Burns' songs. The latter half of the evening will be Scottish dance tunes led by fiddler Rex Blazer and guitarist Lis Saya. Odette Foster will call and teach the dances.

The pipers play in kilts, and Whistler said folks who have Scottish attire are encouraged to wear it.

``It's more on the formal side, but it's a family event,'' she said.

Burns, who lived from 1759 to 1796, was a collector of folk songs as well as a writer. He wrote poems and lyrics to folk tunes. Some of his better-known works include ``Coming Through the Rye,'' ``Auld Lang Syne,'' and ``Ode to a Louse.''

``He's a people's poet,'' Hunsaker said. ``He was a working guy, and his songs were about the working man. He hated the class system. He was hugely respected in communist countries.''

Hunsaker said Burns was poor all of his short life, and supported his writing by working as a low-ranking government employee.

``He wrote `A Man's a Man' - that's a great socialist song, and `Green Grow the Rushes' and `My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.' He also wrote the ghost story poem called `Tam O'Shanter.' It's not typical of his work but it is one of his most famous,'' Hunsaker said.

Festivities will run until about 12 p.m.

``There's usually a pretty good crowd still having fun at midnight when Laurie plays `Auld Lang Syne' and we're ready to close down,'' said Doug Gardner, one of the organizers.

Tickets to Robbie Burns Night are $20 for adults, $15 for UAS students and $10 for children, available through local bookstores. Tickets will cost $2 more at the door, which opens at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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