Story: Brass and pipe bands

Page 4. Pipe bands

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Early pipe bands

The Scottish bagpipes were principally a Highland instrument. Only a small proportion of New Zealand’s Scottish immigrants were Highlanders, including a few trained hereditary pipers. The pipes had traditionally been a solo instrument; Scottish regimental pipe bands dated from the early 19th century.

During the Otago gold rush of the 1860s there were bands that featured bagpipes along with other instruments, but they did not consist solely of pipes and drums. In 1885 Dunedin’s Highland Volunteer Rifles appointed traditional piper Robert Adair as pipe major to their band of five pipers. In 1894 the Canterbury Volunteers also had a pipe band.

Civilian pipe bands grew out of Caledonian (Scottish cultural) societies. In 1896 members of the Invercargill Caledonian Society formed New Zealand’s first civilian pipe band, the Caledonian Pipe Band of Southland. The Invercargill band made a big impression in 1898, playing at Dunedin’s 50th anniversary. Within a few weeks Dunedin had its own pipe band.

The growth of pipe bands

In the first two decades of the 20th century pipe bands were organised throughout the country. Considerable community support was necessary to establish bands. In addition to instruments it was important to get the correct Highland regalia.

Competitions began in 1907 with a Highland Gathering at Hagley Park, Christchurch, coinciding with the Christchurch International Exhibition. Pipe bands performed at Caledonian Society gatherings, sports events and agricultural shows. They took part in civic parades, and played on a range of ceremonial occasions.

The Kaitangata Pipe Band was founded in 1908 in response to a government request for a band to welcome Lord Kitchener to the area.

The pipes go to war

During the First World War soldiers of the Auckland, Canterbury and Otago regiments formed pipe bands. In the Second World War the 22nd and 23rd Battalions and the Artillery had pipe bands. They performed to raise morale, lead marches and play at ceremonial occasions. During the wars civilian pipe bands often marked the departure of soldiers or welcomed them home. The number of pipers was depleted as young men went off to war.

Dominion championships

Pipe bands continued to be formed around the country following the First World War. The first Dominion Pipe Band Championship was held in Dunedin in 1926, and was won by the Dunedin Highland Pipe Band. Dominion Championships were held annually, apart from the war years of 1941 to 1945.

The Dominion competitions brought fame to bands such as the Timaru Highland Pipe Band, which won four years in a row, from 1936 to 1939. The City of Wellington Pipe Band dominated the competition from 1955 to 1990, winning 27 times in 35 years. The New Zealand Police Pipe Band won the competition from 1996 to 1999.

Pipes and pyjamas on parade

The Invercargill Pipe Band was reported to have shown ‘magnificent bearing, dressing and discipline’ on 25 February 1962, when they paraded around Christchurch’s Cathedral Square soon after midnight in their pyjamas.1 Some bandsmen wore tartan bath towels as headdresses, while the drum major used a broom for a staff. The group marched to the Excelsior Hotel to honour the champions of the 1962 National Competition, the City of Wellington pipe band.

Women in pipe bands

Motueka had a Ladies’ Highland Pipe band in the 1930s. In the 1940s and 1950s women’s bands were set up in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hastings and New Plymouth. From the 1950s it became more common for women to join established pipe bands alongside male musicians.

Training and organisation

In 2014 New Zealand had a number of schools for pipe-band music. The College of Drumming was founded in 1973, followed by the College of Piping in 1986. Both colleges concentrated on intense learning, including training retreats. In 1993 the two colleges were combined as the College of Piping and Drumming.

The Highland Pipe Band Association of New Zealand (HPBANZ) was founded in 1928, splitting away from the Piping and Dancing Association, which had formerly governed competitions. The HPBANZ became the Royal New Zealand Pipe Bands Association in 1985. In 2014 the association had 79 pipe bands affiliated to it: 43 in the North Island and 36 in the South Island.

Pipe bands have maintained their popularity in New Zealand, with many towns having one or more. A survey in 2002 found 216 pipe bands, with 131 North Island and 85 South Island bands.

  1. Quoted in F. W. G. Millar, J. E. Annear and N. A. McMillan, The history of the City of Invercargill Caledonian Pipe Band, formerly the Caledonian Pipe Band of Invercargill, and the Caledonian Pipe Band of Southland, and the Southland Pipe Band, 1896–1996. Invercargill: The Band, 1996, p. 79. Back
How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Brass and pipe bands - Pipe bands', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 22 Oct 2014