Robbie Burns Dinner

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Stretching out and doing new things is what life is all about.  I had heard of the Robbie Burns Dinner celebration for years.  This year, as a professional photographer, I was asked to photograph the Robbie Burns Day celebration activities held at the Italian Cultural Centre in Edmonton.  After signing a contract with the promoters, we attended the festivities.  Like a kid in a candy box, I was having fun!  It was challenging to be sure.  This kind of thing you have to enjoy working closely with a lot of people you don’t know.  You had to put out of your mind that you too are on a sold out stage, in front of four hundred people, capturing the moment for posterity, with all of these fantastic performers.  It  is exhilarating when the performers all come strait at you.

Believe it or not, in todays digital express delivery world, pipe bands are a significant part of our Canadian cultural history.  Carrying this history into todays world, the RCMP Regimental Pipes and Drums Band must organize fund raising activities, to keep our cultural heritage alive.  Sad but true.  When I spoke to the band members, this group of hard working individuals are all seriously dedicated to their craft, and that of keeping this Canadian cultural value alive.  So the next time you hear a pipe band, you are hearing actual history that dates back to before the reign of Queen Victoria.  (Queen Victoria was responsible for pushing the formal organization of pipes and drums into the military.)  A military tattoo is formally defined as; “signal sounded on a drum or bugle to summon soldiers or sailors to their quarters at night.”  

Before the RCMP Regimental Pipes and Drums Band put on the evenings show, the members of the group practiced in the hall.  For this type of entertainment, the audience is really immersed in the show.  The audience is wrapped around the dance floor/stage.  You could actually reach out and touch the performers if that was what you wanted to do.  They are that close.  Something to consider too.  The pipe band is very loud, as they play standing right next to you.  This gets the excitement and goose bumps going to be sure.  

The pipes, being made of natural fibres, need to be continually tuned.  I watched as the pipe major, listened to each player, and tuned their individual pipes as they played, using, of course, a cell phone app.  With all the members tuned, they got down to serious playing.  I took note of the pipe major, lifting his right foot and tapping it to the ground.  (I thought; he must get sore over the course of play.  Our MC for the night confirmed that the does.  He’s essentially standing on one foot, while controlling and entire band.)  The rest of the band took pace from his visual representation.  While the members played, the girls went through their dance performance for the night, complete with swords.  Coordination and collaboration is key to a flawless performance.  I could hear them being critical of themselves, working hard to make this nights performance memorable.  Again, dedication to the craft.  Wonderful for me.  The camera loved them all.

To help with fund raising I committed that 50% of my activities proceeds would go towards their Vimy Project. ( The Vimy Project is another fund raising activity by the RCMP Regimental Pipes and Drums Band to enable the band to represent our part of this earth at the Vimy Ridge Centenary in 2017 in France. )   I set up a small mobile portrait studio in the silent auction hall.  At a cost, I offered to all in attendance, a professional portrait.  The response was good.  Question: how many people can you take a portrait of in a setup made for max five people.  Answer: seventeen.  A few people wanted to get the best band for the buck and remember this night.  With a little photoshopping, I was able to develop these photo’s to an acceptable level.  Remember the goose bump excitement I spoke of.  That translated back to me and my work.  Some people told me afterwords that the lineup was to long otherwise they too would have had their photo taken.  I think everyone want to support the band in their own way.

The nights entertainment began around 5PM.  If you have ever been to the Italian Cultural Centre, you’ll know that there are two “main” halls to the building.  One large.  One small.  In the small hall where I was set up, a silent auction was also set up.  There were hundreds of articles up for bids.  The room was full.  While the auction was open to bidders, many times I asked people to give me a moment to capture a portrait.  It was tight, but it worked.  Everyone had fun.  Later that night, all the items that had been setup for auction were gone.  People took their treasures and retired.

Being the official photographer for the night, I ran between the two halls, trying to capture the nights events, and take portraits.  I was so excited by all the activities at times, many of my captures were soft and could only be my personal memories of the night.  The captures I thought were worthy of posting, I have put up for all to see.   My hope is that next year, others will move quickly to get into this special event after seeing the photo’s.

The band marched in the main hall and played their hearts out.  Looking around the room as they played, their task was complete.  Everyone was “eyes on the band” and smiling.  Their performance was flawless and wonderful.  (I checked, and yes the Pipe Major was tapping his foot all the while the band played.)  As I recall, this is eighty beets per minute.  Accompanying the band were the Scot’s dancers. You’ll see in my photo’s, the girls were in perfect sync.  They put on a terrific show.  Hats off to them for stealing the show from the band!  I did try to capture each lass as they twirled and jumped, but I wasn’t satisfied with my work to show it.

On this night there were special considerations for awards and promotions.  But first, the haggis was piped in to the room.  Set on a special table, the haggis was dressed by a member of the band.  A traditional dram of Scotch Whiskey was consumed in one gulp in salute.  Even the bands Pipe Major was addressed as if by a traditional Scot.  Perfect!  You just had to be there to experience this.  The crowd loved this part of the entertainment.

Within the ranks of the RCMP, a Deputy Commissioner is the second highest rank you can achieve in the Force.  In the room this night, there were three attending.  Deputy Commissioner Ryan, Commanding Officer K Division (For those who don’t know, she currently commands all of the RCMP members in Alberta.),  Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeny, Rtd. ( Bill had been assigned to look after Canada’s first civilian RCMP Commissioner and is now the Assistant Deputy Minister Solicitor General and Minister of Justice and Director of Law Enforcement for the Province of Alberta), and Deputy Commissioner Rod Knecht, Rtd. ( Rod is currently working as Edmonton City Police Chief.)  Other special guests are John Slater Lt Colonel retired PPCLI and now CEO of the Corp of Commissionairesthe Mayor of Strathcona County Roxanne CARR.

Official toasts and prayers were conducted by the dignitaries.  Flora TOUVGINY was called upon to present the Malcolm McCRIMMON Memorial Award.   Insp Aaron ZELMER escorted Flora McCrimmon/TOURIGNY to the podium.   The award presented was the Malcolm McCRIMMON Memorial Award.   Malcom was an RCMP Band Piper for over forty years.   He assisted in the formation of the original RCMP Band.  The award went to Drum Major Jerard REDEKOPP.

This was followed by Pipe Major Jeff McDonald and Drum Major Jerard REDEKOPP continuing the nights entertainment.  Following the Pipe band performance, a professional travelling band called CABOT CROSSING entertained the crowd to the end of the night.  During the performance the band would stop playing to draw a ticket for someone in the crowd to win a door prize.  

If you want to support a major component of our cultural heritage, and have a great time doing it, obtain next years tickets to the Robbie Burns Dinner.  You won’t be disappointed.

As always, enjoy the photo’s.


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