Concerns for Scottish culture

Our heritage . . . Anna Walls watches her son Wren Monks play the bagpipes in Dunedin. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

Dunedin’s Scottish culture is under threat because families cannot afford their children to learn piping and drumming in the city, a mother says.

But a pipe band association president says a plan to stop its decline is in place, although funding is needed.

Anna Walls’ son Wren Monks (16) plays the bagpipes and is set to compete in the Otago Southland Pipe Band Contest in Dunedin at the weekend.

Wren, who lives in St Leonards with his mother, will compete in two City of Invercargill pipe bands – its juvenile band and one of its grade four bands.

Wren travelled to Invercargill to rehearse five times a year because the city had more resources available to help him progress as a piper, Dr Walls said.

“They have a very positive and inclusive culture.”

To get to the rehearsals in Invercargill, Wren car pooled from Dunedin with five pipers and two drummers, she said.

The Southland Piping and Drumming Development Trust employed piper Alasdair MacKenzie full-time in Invercargill to mentor pupils, she said.

As a band member, Wren was given most of his uniform including a kilt, which cost about $1000.

Dunedin needed to do something to stop the decline of its Scottish heritage, she said.

“If Dunedin is to maintain and grow its band membership we need to make learning the pipes or drums more accessible for Dunedin children .”

The private tuition available in Dunedin at John McGlashan College and Otago School Of Piping and Drumming was expensive, she said.

The expense to learn to play, such as bagpipes costing about $2000 and a private lesson costing up to $40, were prohibitive for many Dunedin families.

“Not being able to afford to learn these instruments is isolating children from, what is for many, their cultural heritage.”

Dr Monks said her son’s ancestry includes the Crammond family, who emigrated from Scotland to Dunedin in 1848.

The City of Dunedin pipe band should be planning on ways it could form a band to compete in the juvenile grade, she said.

“If we do not have more Dunedin children learning to play the pipe band instruments we risk losing the ability to have a band at all.”

The Otago Centre of the Royal New Zealand Pipe Bands’ Association president Brian Coutts, of Dunedin, said there was a plan to open a performing arts centre to teach piping and pipe band drumming in Dunedin.

The plan was to create something similar to what Invercargill has, he said.

“It’s full steam ahead apart from the funding . . . just add money and it’s go.”

He wanted the Dunedin City Council to fund the project to curb the decline of the movement.

On Sunday, the City of Invercargill will have five bands competing, compared with City of Dunedin’s one band.

Some years the City of Dunedin had no bands entered in the competition, he said.

“The pipe band scene in Dunedin has been in decline for the last 10 to 15 years.”

Sea of red … City of Invercargill pipe band members in red kilts outnumber City of Dunedin pipe band members in Dunedin during the Otago and Southland Provincial Contest in February last year. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

He hoped a City of Dunedin band entering this weekend was a sign the scene was improving.

He questioned if a way to improve the scene was providing lessons to children for free.

If lessons were free, then the child and their parents could see it as lacking value and not give it enough “respect and motivation” to attend.

When a lesson cost money, it motivated a parent to make a child attend.

When asked if Dunedin’s Scottish heritage needed protecting Dr Coutts replied: “You’re speaking to a born Scotsman – someone who has been in pipe bands for six decades – of course, I think the council should be doing something to maintain the Scottish heritage.”

A council spokeswoman said council staff had an informal conversation about this project last year but had not received any formal approaches.

“The association may wish to consider applying for DCC grants funding towards tutor fees or raising this proposal as part of the upcoming annual plan process.”

Dunedin was “proud of its Scottish heritage, as well as the important contributions of other cultures”.

The council supported a range of cultural and performance events across the city throughout the year, including St Andrew’s Day commemorations.

  • Pipe bands will march and perform sets and medleys at an Octagonal Day competition at the North Ground in North Dunedin on Saturday and then compete in the Otago and Southland Provincial Contest in the Octagon on Sunday.