Pipe dreams

Pipe dreams

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Oliver Tsang
Photo: Oliver Tsang

visit by a celebrated bagpiper inspires those who nostalgically remember the city's colonial past, writes Wong Yat-hei

Local bagpipe lovers were thrilled with a recent visit by celebrated master Bill Robertson. More than 10 years after the handover, the bagpipes are one of many of Hong Kong's colonial traditions that are still very much alive. Played by the British army and the Hong Kong police force during ceremonies and celebrations, they are even finding a new niche in the local music scene.

But for Robertson, the bagpipes are almost a way of life. He started playing at the tender age of 11 with the Boys Brigade. He brought his piping skills to the army when he was 18, and at 23 he gained a Pipe Major's Certificate at Edinburgh Castle, where he was awarded the title of pipe major.

Robertson cannot help smiling when he recalls his glory days as a pipe major.

'I performed for the queen at the Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland, during a royal garden party,' he says. 'Towards the end of the performance, as the pipe major, I had to propose a toast to the queen - it was the proudest moment of my life.'

Robertson says he was too nervous to accept an offer by the queen to sign the bagpipe programme. In late 1958, Robertson decided to resign from the army and settle down.

He moved to New Zealand, where he got married and worked as a customs officer - but he never walked away from piping.

In New Zealand, he began teaching young people how to pipe. As director of the Auckland and District Pipe Band, he led the band to win the national championship.

Even now, at the age of 77, Robertson cannot get enough of piping. He spends his spare time developing online piping teaching materials on a website www.bagpipe-tutorials.com

Sites like Robertson's are a boon to local bagpipers, says Ringo Tse Lap-wai, manager of Oriental Pipes and Drums, a local professional pipe band.

He says he and other members loved the sound of the instrument when they heard the British army playing it as children. With few places to learn the instrument in Hong Kong, the internet is now making it easier gain proficiency - even expertise.

'The internet allows locals to interact with pipers around the world and access to various online teaching materials, which helps to popularise the instrument,' he said.

Tse describes Robertson as 'relentless' when it comes to the bagpipes.

'He doesn't look like a 70-year -old man. He is so energetic and talks endlessly about piping. He preaches perfection and that makes him so successful.'

To learn more about the bagpipes, visit the Scottish Music Gallery in Christmas at Park Central, Tseung Kwan O, which runs until January 3.

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