Mount Forest pipers performed at private concert for Queen Elizabeth

Mount Forest residents Alan and Elizabeth Ghent were among members of the Pipes and Drums of Canada who performed a private concert for Queen Elizabeth II this summer at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

The Pipes and Drums of Canada, whose Ontario members come from all corners of the province to practise weekly in Orillia from April to November, was joined by musicians from across Canada for the performance marking the 200th anniversary of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. He was born in Glasgow in 1815.

“Going to her home for a private concert was really something,” Alan said, adding the queen is a huge fan of bagpipes.

“Apparently we were one of the few bands ever invited to Balmoral to play for her.”

Elizabeth, a native of Scotland who took up playing the pipes at the age of 70, grew up knowing that the Queen has a private piper who plays every morning for 15 minutes in front of whichever castle she is at.

“The Queen’s piper is a top rank in the British army and if he makes a wrong note, the Queen marks it down,” Elizabeth says. “The Queen knows her piping.”

Alan, who has been playing the pipes for over 50 years, first heard about the  Pipes and Drums of Canada many years ago and drove to Orillia to check out a practice.

The band is the brainchild of Ross Baxter, a member of the Collingwood Legion Pipe Band, who envisioned a band of pipers and drummers travelling to faraway places representing Canada, Ontario and the Royal Canadian Legion.

“I thought driving to Orillia from Mount Forest was a long way to go until I got there and found I was one of the closest to Orillia,” Alan said. “People drive from North Bay, Hamilton, Windsor, the Ottawa Valley, Hamilton, from all over the province. On any given Sunday there could be 60 people playing together in Orillia.”

Senior Pipe Major Baxter, now over 80 years of age, has taken the band overseas to perform in Scotland on a regular basis for the past 30 years.  The band has also performed in the Orange Bowl Parade and at several other events in the United Sates, as well as at Kitchener’s Oktoberfest.

Alan has been on several of the excursions with the band. This summer’s performance at Balmoral was the first for Elizabeth.

The Royal Party – Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, their son Prince Edward, his wife and child – enjoyed the concert from under a canopy on the grounds of Balmoral.

Pipers and drummers from across Canada joined the Ontario musicians for the private performance. They marched by and played, followed by a colour party that  including the flags from all the Canadian provinces and territories. Band officials were presented to the Queen after the performance.

“About 10 pipe majors, pipe sergeants, drum majors were presented to her,” Alan said. “She shook their hands and had a conversation with each one.”

This past summer’s trip included other concerts in Glasgow as well as other parades and functions. Band members were billeted in the University of Edinburgh dormitories and, according to Alan, played at least once every day. The Pipes and Drums of Canada took part in seven concerts at different venues.

Band members all received a letter from the Queen’s secretary saying “the Queen wishes to thank everybody for coming to play.”

They also received certificates from then-Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism Chungsen Leung thanking them for taking part in the commemoration of John A. Macdonald’s birth. Leung, from Willowdale, is a member of the Pipes and Drums of Canada.

Also making the trip to Scotland was Murray Young of Orangeville, a member of the Fergus Pipe Band.