Learning The Pipes

By Enice Olding

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The movie audience sat in rapt expectation as Rob Roy, arrested and taken to London, was led by a lone bagpiper, to his interview with the powers that be. A pause in the on-screen sound, much to the astonishment of the audience, gives way to a bright three-year-old voice saying, "that's The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre!" And with that enthusiastic acknowledgement of a familiar Scottish tune, Barbara Christofferson's lifelong love of Scottish music was well on its way.

Barbara's passion for Scottish music emerged early. Born in Calgary and raised in Camrose, Alberta, she grew up in a household that continued to embrace the customs and traditions brought by her parents from their home countries of Scotland and England. Her father, a piper and drummer, was raised in Scotland and through him she discovered both the customs and music of his homeland. As a child, Barbara learned the piano, but her father's love of pipe playing stole into her heart. It was a long while, however, before she took up the challenge of learning how to play the bagpipes.

At the end of a European school trip, Barbara, then 16, had the chance to visit Scotland. It would be her first visit to the country that had always beckoned her, and when she headed north on the train to meet her Campbell relatives, who lived near Edinburgh, she says, "I felt like I was going home."

Later, with a degree in modern languages, Barbara became a teacher. She taught school in Berlin, Switzerland and the Highlands of Scotland. She also travelled extensively with her husband as his work took them to many destinations including India, London and China. Barbara taught while abroad and in China offered workshops in cross-cultural communication.

In 1973, in Red Deer, Alberta, Barbara taught drama and French. She always loved drama and theatre and participated in theatrical activities ever since she was a schoolgirl. She went to the Banff School of Fine Arts Centre and, eventually, gave up teaching to become an actor. Joining Equity, she chose Barbara Campbell Brown as her professional name. One of the highlights of her acting career was the role of Louise, the mother of Elizabeth Smart, in the play Memories of You by Wendy Lill, under the directorship of Sharon Pollock. More recently, and on Vancouver Island, Barbara was in the play Dried Flowers. She has an agent in Vancouver and looks forward to future acting roles.

Not one to take it easy, Barbara was 50 when she started her PhD in Adult Education. She studied while travelling and though that didn't make it any easier, Barbara says having a goal is very important. She advises, "keep your mind active if you are going to stay on top of things - keep your mind smart and keep using it."

Obtaining her PhD was the hardest challenge she's pursued, says Barbara. Acting, on the other hand, is the easiest and learning the bagpipes falls somewhere in the middle. "It's a challenge," she says, "but I enjoy the music."

About three years ago, when Barbara and her husband, Ken, moved to Vancouver Island, they returned to one of the original old Bamberton homes they bought when they first moved to the Island in 1994. The garden was the perfect setting for their older daughter's wedding two years ago. With the Campbell-Lamont-MacMillan family links, it was inevitable that touches of Scotland would be palpable at the event. Seeking the services of a piper for the ceremony, Barbara went to Pipe Major Gordon Pollock of the Cowichan Pipes and Drums, whom she had heard piping and knew "he was one of the best" she had ever heard. She met with him to discuss the music. Pollock was so impressed with her enthusiasm, he invited her to come to the weekly practice sessions, take lessons or just listen. She did. And she's attended those sessions ever since.

Barbara found it harder than she imagined. "It was so difficult, I almost quit." But, at that discouraging time, she found her father's chanter in a box amongst her mother's belongings. Barbara took it as a sign and, with renewed vigour, continued her lessons. Sometimes she uses her father's chanter, which is made of wood. Newer ones are made of plastic. The chanter, which looks somewhat like a recorder, has a nine-note scale and is used to learn and practise all tunes before they are played on the great Highland bagpipes.

After about two years, Barbara made the big move to the bagpipes.

"For me it is a huge commitment," she says, and takes her studies to a completely different place. "It's about stamina, as well as music," she says. Having to keep the air to the drones constant and the bag of the instrument filled are very demanding, so Barbara works on building up her stamina and lung capacity. "I walk up Cobble Hill Mountain twice a week," she grins. Apart from that, she practises five or six days a week for about 45 minutes. For constant encouragement and inspiration, Barbara says credit goes to Bill Grant "my mentor" and Carol Fowler "my Pipe Major" both of the Cowichan Pipes and Drums.

On one occasion, she decided to practise the pipes, staying in the car, while crossing on a B.C. Ferry. Sitting in her car, she was oblivious to her surroundings. When her husband returned to the car, she realized she had audience. Someone in a nearby car called out to her husband, "she's doing really well!"

Barbara is comforted by the belief that it takes seven years to make a piper. "I'm in year two," she says, "and one day, I want to play with Cowichan Pipe and Drums, to earn the uniform and wear their Drummond of Perth tartan, and actually march and play with the band."

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