Gardner duo's love for bagpiping leads to Scotland

Posted: Monday, August 30, 2010

Since 100 A.D., when the sound first came rumbling down from the Highlands near the mountain ranges of Munros, Corbetts, and Grahams, the sound produced by the Scottish clans' piob mhor, or great Highland bagpipe, has been a labor of love for those who play and an enjoyable taste, sometimes acquired, for many who listen.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

For Doug and Laurie Gardner, it's both.

"We are kind of junkies when it comes to the bagpipes," said Doug, who subs his kilt and sporran for slacks and a briefcase in his duties as Juneau's district attorney. "Laurie and I will play anywhere we can."

Their teamwork started in 1995 when Laurie, of Scottish and Irish heritage, was teaching beginner classes for Juneau's Stroller White Pipes & Drums and Highland Dancers. Doug, who traces his roots to Clan Davidson, was one of her beginning students.

"He joined the band in our beginner's class," said Laurie, the senior loan originator at Alaska USA Mortgage. "He had a desire and the rest is history."

That desire took them to Enumclaw, Wash. for the Seattle Highland Games on July 30. There, they watched Juneau Highland dancer Maire New, 13, win an aggregate trophy and move up to Premier dance status.

Enumclaw, however, was just a tiny stop while heading overseas to the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.

"We were proud to be asked to wear the colors of St. Anne's of Hampton (New Jersey)," Gardner said. "It was just a chance meeting in April 2002 at Pipe Fest in New York with St. Anne's Pipe Major Cliff Roberts."

The Stroller White group was participating in the Marie Curie Cancer Care Fundraiser. Doug and Roberts were standing next to each other watching their wives play. Conversation led to an invitation to join Roberts' group for various performances, including New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade in 2003, 2004, and 2010, along with various other small engagements in New York.

Doug and Laurie Gardner left Seattle for Edinburgh, Scotland, Aug. 4 and experienced the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a three-week long celebration of comedy, dance, exhibitions, music, theater, and, of course, bagpiping.

As members of St. Anne's of Hampton, they took part in the Royal Mile March Aug. 7, joining thousands of pipers from corps representing 27 countries as they played and marched past historic Old Town, past Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood House, and into Holyrood Park for the Grand Finale Massed Pipe Bands.

"Marching a long that cobbled road, thinking how many millions of people over the last five or six hundred years have walked there... being a part of that history marching up to the castle really hits home," Laurie said.

The march helped raise money for the Marie Curie organization and began a week of activity leading up to the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.

St. Anne's played in the most competitive category against more than 60 bands, coming from around the world. On the day of the competition, Aug. 14, bands covered Glasgow Green and its surrounding areas looking for pieces of Glasgow's oldest common grounds to practice.

"It is the most incredible thing," Gardner said of the music. "Literally there are bands all over the park looking for space to tune up... the sound is just a constant roar."

Added Laurie, "It either stirs your soul to violence or it is just a great love. Either you just love it or you don't, and if you don't you probably never will, honestly, or if you learn to tolerate it that's not good enough."

At the World Championships, bands march in across a chalk line. Whatever is played past the line is judged. A circle, sprayed in chalk on the field rests 20-30 yards past the line. On cue, the pipe major turns to the band and calls off the tempo. The band marches in to form a circle and either plays out or taps out.

"We didn't make it out of the qualifying rounds," Gardner said. "But it was a real experience being out there, walking on that short-mowed lawn at Glasgow Green with the sunshine and playing at the Worlds. ... That was definitely a pinch-yourself moment."

More than 53,000 people would watch the two-time defending, and six-time overall champion Simon Frasier University of Canada lose the crown to the first pipers ever to win from Dublin, Ireland, the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band.

"They played for their lives," Gardner said. "There was nobody there who didn't like bagpipes or wasn't Scottish for the day... with or without the beer tent."

Over 238 bands, 133 from Scotland, with 8,000 of the world's top pipers and drummers from 16 nations attended, including bands from as far away as Paraguay, New Zealand, and Canada took part in the nine hours of competitions.

"It is just an incredible time to be in Scotland, " Doug Gardner said. "It was just rocking and fun, I wanted to hear more. One of the things that really impressed me and what was really cool about going to Scotland, was feeling the places, feeling the music. One of the things I learned the most was having fun and expression, not going into the music competitions tight, wanting to play things mechanically correct but playing with some feeling and expression. At the Worlds, they work hard, play tight, but they are expressing and having fun."

The Gardner's each bought a "Sghian Dubh," the ceremonial knife that slips in the uniform sock of the piper. This knife is a throwback to the days when Highland piping was more than just pleasure, when, as a musical instrument of war, the Great Pipes of the Highlands shrill and penetrating notes easily rose above the roar and din of battle and could be heard up to 10 miles away.

"You get this really neat connection from the culture and the music," Doug Gardner said. "I feel really different today than I did before I went on this trip."

They also found time to visit landmarks such as Borthwick Castle, Holyrood Park and Palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots spent her time, the Salisbury Crags and King Arthur's seat with its 360-degree panoramic view, Borthwick Castle, Sterling Castle and the Wallace Monument.

"Just the history and letting your soul get carried back in time," Laurie said. "Imagining what it was like to walk those stones and be behind those walls."

The Gardners hope the rich Scottish Highland Piping traditions can carry over into Juneau's rich history of the volunteer non-profit Stroller White Pipes & Drums.

"We think there are probably some changes that Stroller White could make in the upcoming months that the public will see and think is kind of exciting," Doug said. "We want to get out more and represent Juneau more, show people more about SWP&D's identity and how it relates to the community. When you go to Scotland, or anywhere, to play, like it or not you are a big ambassador of good will for this community... and we hope to be that."

Added Laurie, "We have such new energy and excitement for the group. Stroller White has always been a true community asset, we volunteer and come out for so many community activities but I don't think that the community truly understands who the band is."

Stroller White was a newsman in Juneau and Skagway and a mountain next to the Mendenhall Glacier bears his name. The band now features 22 pipes and drums and 21 dancers, and they are actively recruiting, especially to bolster the drum corps.

"I don't think the founding fathers of the band thought it would grow into what it is today," Laurie said. "That we would be meeting weekly and sometimes twice a week for the last 30 years. We have grown into a disciplined organization and want to be associated with the populace of the city... make a sound, so to speak, for the people of Juneau. You don't have to be Scottish to be involved, you have to have the desire to play."

Modern Scots say the sound of 8,000 pipers playing each year keeps Nessie deep in the waters of Loch Ness.

"We weren't playing bag pipes that day on Loch Ness," Doug Gardner said of the boat tour he and Laurie took onto the Scottish lake that supposedly hides the Loch Ness Monster. "But, we didn't see the monster either."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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