In Year of Transition, UCR Pipe Band Continues to Make a Name for Itself

Whitelaw's solo piping championship is one of the highlights of 2013

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — It’s been a year of transition for the UC Riverside Pipe Band. Despite having to rebuild the core of their top-tier band due to a large number of younger members moving on to pursue careers or continue their education elsewhere, the band stayed busy throughout the year and continued to add to its trophy case, adding several individual and group awards to the record book.

“We did well this year, taking several top four finishes in band competitions and our soloists won the aggregate awards at a number of games,” said Pipe Major Mike Terry said.

But of all the awards, perhaps the most impressive was that of Ian Whitelaw, the band’s director of music and a lecturer in the UCR Department of Music. A professional piper, Whitelaw won the Western United States Pipe Band Association (WUSPBA) Solo Aggregate title for the second consecutive year.

The performance that put Whitelaw over the top came at the 148th Scottish Highland Gathering & Games in Pleasanton over Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, Calif. Whitelaw swept the professional solo piping competition, taking the crown in the Piobaireachd (the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe), March, Strathspey & Reel (MSR), and Hornpipe/Jig set. In its 148th year, the Pleasanton Games are one of the largest on the west coast and feature experienced judges from Scotland, Canada and the U.S. as well as competitors from around the globe.

“That performance is indicative of the quality of piping he is capable of producing,” Terry said.

Whitelaw credited his song selection as played a large part in his wins. “It’s similar to a singer on American Idol. They can sing well, but if they sing the ‘wrong’ song, they go home. It is simple as that,” he said.

Ian Whitelaw

Ian Whitelaw

“It is always a difficult task to sweep any contest due to the nature of the competition and the subjective rules of engagement – the judges always have differing ideas about what they like,” Whitelaw added. “Sweeping the contest does not happen all that often – it is fun when it does.”

The overall trophy resides in the office of Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. It is a recognition that Whitelaw doesn’t take lightly.

“I think he is a big fan of the bagpipes, as well as music in general. I truly appreciate and value his support for me as well as the pipe band,” he said. “The program that has been developed is unique and serves the students and the community.”

Cullenberg was quick to commend Whitelaw as a musician and a teacher.

“Ian Whitelaw is perhaps the premier piper in the country and he brings great distinction to our campus through his teaching of our students,” he said. “I am honored to prominently display his trophy in my office.  Ian’s excellence reminds all of us Highlanders of the need to push ourselves toward greatness in whatever endeavor we choose to pursue.”

As the band’s director of music, Whitelaw oversees the music and style of the band as well as shepherding the growth of band. While many members have a connection to UC Riverside as staff, faculty, student or alumni, many others come from across Southern California, united by their shared musical interests

UCR has had bands compete at three different grades in recent years, including the beginning grade 5, grade 4, and finally adding a grade 3 band two years ago. The grade 4 band has won the WUSPBA championship several occasions and the grade 5 band is the defending champion for 2012. The grade 3 band, which went on a hiatus recently due to a shortage of drummers, is expected to resume competition soon.

“Our Grade 3 competitive unit was primarily made up of younger musicians, and we had a number of college and high school-aged musicians who moved on in life to pursue careers, go to college or graduate school. So that unit felt the largest impact,” Terry said. “We have one young lad deployed to Afghanistan, another who moved to Chicago, it’s just a natural occurrence.”

Even with its slightly diminished numbers, the band plays a busy schedule that features public appearances throughout the Inland Empire, including performances at graduation ceremonies for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department as well as UCR events such as the Chancellor’s Convocation and Commencement ceremonies. Their competition schedule included appearances at the Queen Mary Scotsfest in February, the Orange Country Scotsfest in May, the San Diego Scottish Highland Games in June, the Scottish Highland Gathering & Games in Pleasanton in September and the Seaside Games in Ventura in October.

The band also hosted their own Harry Moore Pipe and Drum Competition each spring at Canyon Crest Country Club in Riverside. The event is named after the band’s first drum sergeant, who passed away in 2008.

Among the most emotional and moving moments were the band’s participation in a pair high visibility funerals for Inland Empire law enforcement officers. The band was invited to play at the funeral for Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain on February 13, leading the procession into The Grove Community Church. Members of the band also played with police and fire agency pipers and drummers at the funeral of San Bernardino Sheriff Detective Jeremiah McKay on February 21. Both  were slain by police fugitive Christopher Dorner.

“We were honored to be part of these solemn events,” Terry said. “We hold in high regard the heroes among us who daily put their lives at risk to keep us safe.”

While the competition season has wrapped up, the band still has several performances on the schedule, including veterans celebrations and parades, holiday events, and UCR’s Homecoming on November 16.

For those interested in learning to play the bagpipe or to drum in the Scottish style, classes are offered each quarter through the UCR Student Recreation Center. Students start by playing a practice chanter, which allows them to learn the basics of the instrument.

Meanwhile, the band will gather in November to discuss plans for the 2014 season, including possibly moving the Harry Moore Memorial to a new time or location due to scheduling challenges. “One exciting possibility would be to hold this at UCR,” Terry said.

Whitelaw will also stay busy, as he plans to compete in the Angus MacDonald bagpipe competition in San Diego in November, where he is a six-time champion. In January he is looking at a trip to Kansas City  to compete in the United States Gold Medal piping contest. That contest, which Whitelaw won in 2006, features about 30 competitors from around the world is judged by Scottish adjudicators.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-4756

Additional Contacts

Mike Terry, pipe major

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