Bagpiper shares memorable moments performing in Canada and abroad

Officer Cadet Reil
Officer Cadet Reil hones his bagpipe skills with a warm-up near the tank left by the German Army after ending their training at CFB Shilo. Besides his involvement with the 26 Field Regiment band, OCdt Reil often plays his bagpipes at Base functions. Photo: Jules Xavier - The Shilo Stag

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By Officer Cadet J-P Reil – The Shilo Stag

Most bagpipers start playing at a young age, often as a result of family traditions.

Growing up, I didn’t like bagpipes that much; no one in my family played them. Now when I look back, I think I didn’t understand what playing bagpipes meant. I had some musical talent going through school, but it did not amount to much.

Bagpipes piqued my interest when I was in Air Cadets. Seeing kids my own age performing, I thought I would like to give it a shot. After joining the Regular Forces and experiencing my first posting in 2002, I found a pipe band at 26 Field Regiment in Brandon.

It didn’t take me too long to become hooked on bagpipes, seeing the potential they bring as a musician. I took every opportunity to practice. Within a year, I was a full-fledged member of the band. I would often practice several hours a day, until I was able to play the pipes for more than just a few notes. When I was at work and there was not much going on, I would often take a pen to go over fingering. Practicing fingering to develop muscle memory is key to improving, as there is no sheet music in front of you on parade.

During the course of my duties, I found it strange that as a young private, I was often personally asked by senior non-commissioned officers and some officers to play at various mess dinners.

Throughout my first posting, I was a hot commodity. One of my most cherished moments was being the acting pipe major at the annual Royal Manitoba Winter Fair held in Brandon. As a private at the time, I was the only military member in the band. I ended up leading the band not only in front of the Base Commander, but the Lieutenant Governor as well. Having that exposure as a relatively new military member gave my pride a big boost.

After being posted to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown, I discovered many travel opportunities with the pipe band on Canada’s east coast. My first time playing in a massed band was in Norfolk at the Virginia International Tattoo. That event added a whole new meaning to playing the bagpipes. I also enjoyed marching through the historic Quebec City gates during the city’s international music festival. The year was 2008, which was also the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding.

I brought my bagpipes along on deployments, hoping to have some opportunity to play. Though I did not play at any ramp ceremonies, I had the honour of playing for a fallen comrade from the United States Green Berets in Afghanistan. Their First Sergeant and deputy commanding officer presented me with unit coins. How many Canadians can say they have a Green Beret coin?

Another fond memory I have is standing on the bow of HMCS Ottawa, piping the ship back into CFB Esquimalt harbour after a deployment to Panama.

As a volunteer piper in the military, I found a sense of purpose and dedication which I would not have had elsewhere. This dedication and purpose gave me the time to continue pursuing and expanding my musical talents.

Image gallery

  • Officer Cadet Reil
  • Unit coins
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