Snapshots by Gloria Freeland

Bagpipes, drums, pomp and fun

The first time Art and I visited England, we also traveled to Scotland. On the way to visit the home of my Freeland ancestors, I told him that I really, really wanted to see and hear bagpipers and that, if I did, it would make our trip complete. For some reason, bagpipes seem to have a particularly mesmerizing effect on me.

As we were nearing the tail end of our visit, I had resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen. But then, as we were shopping in a small woolen shop in Inverness, I thought I heard bagpipes.

"It must be my imagination," I thought.

But no, it turned out to be the real thing. A group of them had appeared in the middle of a narrow nearby street and were playing away.

But I didn't have to return to Scotland Friday to hear authentic bagpiping. All I had to do was go to McCain auditorium.

When Art, Mariya and Mariya's friend and I arrived, people were milling around the lobby of McCain Auditorium as usual before a performance. But we immediately noticed the performers mingling with us. How did we know that? Well it wasn't hard to pick them out. Dressed in various uniforms of scarlet jackets, tartan kilts and tiger-skin vests, members of the Black Watch and their companions in the Band of the Welsh Guards didn't exactly blend in.

I had Mariya buy one of the booklets they were selling and then approach them one by one for autographs. Each member explained the significance of their attire and joked with audience members. It was fun to see the military band members up close and personal.

The musicians of the Welsh Guard can be seen regularly at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London. Art and I witnessed the ceremony on that first trip in 1988. Stone-faced and wearing tall bear-fur hats, the guards moved with military precision. I think most of us onlookers stared as long as we did to see if they would "let down their guard." They never did, but in the lobby Friday night, they did just that.

But once on stage, the two bands were all military precision and seriousness again.

I was surprised to have a small personal connection to the performance. During the opening muster, K-State ROTC cadets marched onto the stage bearing the American and British flags. One of the two color guards is a student in one of my classes. I felt as proud of her as if she had been one of my own daughters.

The musicians then filled the stage with pageantry and the auditorium with the sounds of trumpets, trombones, bagpipes and drums. Selections included the British and U.S. national anthems, Blue Bells of Scotland, Wooden Heart, Pomp and Circumstance, Ode to Joy and Amazing Grace. I suppose it was my Scotch-Irish and Welsh background coming out, but the music touched a chord. And once again I had my fix of bagpipes with numbers ranging from haunting laments to fiery battle tunes. A bonus was watching dancers demonstrating the highland fling.

The two hours passed quickly and near the end we learned that the performers were not just musicians. The British announcer said that many of those on stage had fought alongside U.S. soldiers, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. We stood, applauded and cheered to show our appreciation not just for their musical ability, but for their expression of comradeship with our country.

Various promotions for the performance promised bagpipes, drums, Celtic dance and military marches and the "pomp of full ceremonial dress and the majesty of music that will fill the auditorium in a flash of energy perfect for families." The performance delivered what the promotions promised . . . and more.

But when it was over, the performers were just like many young people, for Mariya overheard one of them say to a companion, "OK, where is this place now they call Aggieville?"

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