Skirl's out for City Hall pipe debut

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 October, 2009, 12:00am

Bagpipes have proved they can gate-crash rock gigs and be plangent at the 1997 handover ceremony. Now the Hong Kong Scottish Piping and Drumming Association wants to show its music can also be entertaining in the instrument's first public solo performance at City Hall on Saturday.

Although there are more than 80 bagpipe varieties, the Scottish instruments - the great Highland bagpipes - will be on parade this weekend. Compared with its English and Irish counterparts, the sound of the Highland pipes is more in-your-face, but pipers Anthony Brewer, Alvin Chung Chin-wai, Kieran Wan Ka-ming and Stewart Fung Wing-cheong (below) will reveal a quieter side of the instrument's repertoire.

The Highland bagpipe is an outdoor instrument so organisers have chosen the concert's music with care. In deference to the decibels, none of the items will run beyond five minutes; among them are two pieces composed by Pipe Major McIntosh of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, who was stationed in Hong Kong in 1928: The Hills of Kowloon and The Road to Sham-Shui-Po will reel off with an arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon and Steam Train to Mallaig. 'It's an exciting piece which [brings to mind] the steam train scene in the Harry Potter movie,' says Wan.

The bagpipes are taught and played worldwide and pipers can be found in many countries on the internet. Canada and the US are particularly rich repositories beyond Scotland: Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, for example, offers a degree course in bagpipes, reflecting the Scottish roots of its founder.

Chung and Brewer received much of their training courtesy of the Canadian armed forces' music programmes, while Fung studied at performing arts establishments in both Pittsburgh and Prince Edward Island before topping out his qualifications in Scotland.

Wan, at 25, is the youngest member and the driving force behind the gig. Initially self taught, he perfected his skills at the Glasgow Piping Centre in Scotland. His studies in international business management gave him the entrepreneurial skills to promote bagpipe playing in Hong Kong (for which he was recognised as one of RTHK's 10 Best Young Artists of Hong Kong two years ago). In 2005 he set up a pipe band that still plays for visitors at a Zhuhai theme park.

A century ago, English army officers referred to the great Highland bagpipes as 'agony bags', but Wan is having none of that.

'The best way to correct people's view is to show them how a good piper can turn a noise-making machine into a musical instrument [as if by] magic,' he says.

The players will wear kilts for their concert. You don't have to have a connection with a clan to wear one, Wan says.

'The Scottish kilt is a famous national dress available to everyone in the world.

'You can easily order a tailor-made kilt at one of the many shops in Scotland and some tartan mills even design different tartans for different people, countries and events to attract more buyers, such as the Princess Diana Memorial Tartan,' he says.

The Piper's Art, Sat, 7.30pm, 8/F Hong Kong City Hall, High Block Recital Hall, Central, HK$100. Inquiries: 8113 2005