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Piping in Brazil


Cristiano Bicudo and Myself

This past October I had the wonderful opportunity to travel through Brazil with Cristiano Bicudo. We met in Rio de Janeiro, travelled to Petropolis, back to Rio and on to Sao Paulo, with a couple of days spent in the capital of Brasilia. This was a 22 days experience that highlighted 2017. I asked Cristiano to follow up with his understanding of piping and drumming in Brazil, so that those not familiar may discover its lengthy history and appreciate the contributions of many along the way.

This will take the form of a book with a preface and several chapters contributed by Cristiano and his brother Marcus of Sao Paulo; Pipe Major and Lead Drummer of the Brazil Caledonia Pipe Band.



A Brief History of Highland Piping and Drumming in Brazil

by Cristiano Bicudo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The first pipers to arrive in Brazil were Portuguese at the time of our discovery in 1500. They obviously did not play Highland pipes but their own Portuguese version of the instrument. Galician piper Carlos Nunez developed an interesting theory, by which he claims that the Northeast of Brazil kept elements of the original music of Celtic influence that landed here with the Portuguese pipers in the 1500s. These elements, according to him, are still present in traditional Brazilian types of music like baiao. However, the bagpipe itself did not survive as an instrument of Brazilian music, being replaced mainly by the accordion.

But when did the Highland pipes make its first appearance in Brazil?

This may have occurred at some point in the 1800s, after Brazil declared its independence (1822). Britain was a traditional ally of Portugal and it continued to be an ally and trading partner of Brazil for most of the 19th century. If no Scottish piper reached our shores in the times of our Empire, on the other hand, there is no doubt that it occurred in the times of the Republic in the early 20th century. At that time, British investments increased considerably in Brazil, and many executives of Scottish origin were sent here. Following this, two St Andrew Societies were founded, one in Rio de Janeiro (1906) and the other one in So Paulo (1924). The St Andrew Society in SP keeps a record of the few pipers who played for the society in those days. They were all native Scots just like the rest of the members of the society and provided the entertainment for events like Burns suppers, St Andrews Day celebrations, etc. There is even a report of one of them giving chanter lessons at the local British school in SP in the 60s or 70s, but this was totally out of reach for the average Brazilian, so this initiative of the British community did not succeed.

Gradually over the years these Scottish pipers ceased their musical activities in SP because of age or because they were sent back to the UK. So much that by the late 70s and through most of the 80s, St Andrew Society of SP piping was entirely provided by pipers from the British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band flown in straight from the UK for their events.

Meanwhile, another initiative, entirely independent from the local British communities, was taking shape, as the Brazilian Navy got hold of a large number of sets of Highland pipes in 1951 and wanted to put them to use in their existing marine band based in Rio de Janeiro. It is not very clear how the Brazilian navy got hold of the sets of pipes; it might have been a present from the Royal Navy. Anyway, the pipes were left untouched for some years because of a total lack of instruction.

Eventually, the Brazilian marine band musicians learned the pipes on their own; self taught, probably borrowing technique from other conventional woodwind instruments. This improvised bagpipe technique remained in the Brazilian navy band for decades, probably meeting the requirements of the conductor of their martial band, but certainly keeping them away from the historical technique of the pipes. This prevented them from studying and playing the more intricate types of Highland music like jigs, strathspeys and reels.

Nevertheless, the marine band did have an impact on Brazilian civilian martial bands. In the 60s and 70s, there are reports of some Scottish bands popping up in the South and Southeast of Brazil, in the national league of fanfares and martial bands, most likely a fashion of those days. (So much that special rules for martial bands with bagpipes were enacted in the national league championship regulations!). There were at least five such bands:

  1. Banda do Colgio Corao de Maria from Santos, State of So Paulo
  2. Banda Corao de Maria from Santa Maria, State of Rio Grande do Sul (though similarly named bands, they are two different groups name is common amongst Christian schools in Brazil)
  3. Banda Escocesa do Colgio So Carlos, from Caxias do Sul, State of Rio Grande do Sul
  4. Banda Marcial Wolney Aguiar (BMWA), based in Petropolis, State of Rio de Janeiro
  5. Drages Iguauanos, from Nova Iguau, State of Rio de Janeiro.

Of note, the first three were made up of girls only. With no exceptions they were all bands that had adopted Highland outfits and a Scottish theme, but were for the most part only carrying sets of pipes or playing simple marches. One of these bands, however, went a bit further. BMWA initially played Galician bagpipes, but in the late 1960s they acquired sets of Highland pipes and got instruction straight from navy pipers in Rio. By doing so, they also adopted the same style of improvised technique for the pipes that had been created by the Brazilian navy band. On the other hand, unlike the navy band, they attempted to play more Scottish tunes in an authentic way. The lack of instructors, nevertheless, was once again a major obstacle for their musical evolution. This did not stop them from becoming famous in their hometown of Petrpolis with a large pipe corps of 10 pipers plus. And who would have thought, piping would establish a firm root in that town to this day, thanks to the musical work of BMWA! They were undoubtedly the most successful civilian band to play the pipes in Brazil for many years. The other bands in the list gradually adopted other musical themes and styles or simply disappeared when the Scottish fashion vanished.

The next band initiative to take place in Brazil didnt occur until the mid 1990s with the Scottish Link Pipe Band (SLPB) from SP, Brazil. SLPB had no relation with any of the previous initiatives and was the direct result of my brother Marcos and myself first having contact with British Caledonian Airways piper John Martin in the mid 80s and subsequent formal lessons at the College of Piping in Glasgow. SLPB made an impact on the bands that were playing pipes in Brazil at the time, none of them being real pipe bands. BMWA was in contact with SLPB from our very beginning. Later, marine piper J Paulo Filho (from Rio) visited me in SP and realized that a number of changes could be implemented with the pipe corps of the navy band. The navy bands 2011 visit to Scotland to participate in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo helped to connect them with pipe bands abroad. But it was only after J Paulo retired from the navy that he could himself pursue his own piping dreams.

He started teaching the pipes to students of a school in So Gonalo (Vieira Brum) and went on to form a band made up with boys of the more impoverished areas of that same town (favelas). His social project flourished with very few resources and was renamed Brazilian Piper, setting standards for other similar initiatives in So Gonalo.

In 2009, a split of the SLPB band created the St Andrew Society of So Paulo Pipes and Drums, and three years later a split in the St Andrews band created a third pipe band in the city of SP, the So Paulo Scots.

So all these Brazilian band initiatives have roots outside the British community, which is interesting as in both Argentina and Uruguay the local bands evolved directly from the local British and Scottish communities, many of their members retaining British surnames from their ancestors. Not being directly rooted in the local British and Scottish communities in Brazil allowed Brazilian pipe bands to keep their own musical identity, having great respect for the Scottish traditional repertoire, but also including some Brazilian tunes of their own in their shows.

This street scene, impromptu at Brooklinfest in Sao Paulo last October gives you a taste of some of the more trad Brazilian music.... the Brazil Caledonia with a drum ensemble, totally unrehearsed:

Cristiano and brother Marcus (Front on left)



G5 - The South American Pipe Band Championships

September 4 7, 2013

With the Cowal Gathering just over, Joe and Lynn Noble and myself were on planes headed for Buenos Aires, Argentina on Monday, September 2. Arriving by separate carriers, we were whisked away to our hotel for the week, the Ramada Inn in Vicente Lopez, a suburb of Buenos Aires. Ironically, as quickly as we were met at the arrivals, the trip to the hotel took in excess of 90 minutes traffic thicker than a herd of buffalo at a watering hole! Bumper to bumper and stopped all the way With close to 13 million residents in the area, this has to be one of the most congested urban centers in the world!

The arrival behind us, we were joined by our new friend, dancing instructor Tony Cargill and we settled in for a few days of Argentinean BBQs (asados), band workshops and judging of the G5 the fifth South American summit for pipe bands.

Ken Eller, Tony Cargill and Joe Noble

Ken Eller overseeing the parrilla at the asado hosted by George and his wife Yvonne

Our hosts for the G5 were the members of the Highland Thistle Pipe Band Ernesto (Lead Drummer) and his father Ralph Ayling, who took us all out for a fabulous luncheon, Paula Martin (dance coordinator), Oscar Llobenes (Pipe Major), and band members like Paula, Gus and Chus, who assisted with transportation every day.

Javier Olivera (Chus), Cyril and Ralph Ayling and grandson Pat Schmidt-Liermann

All work and no play is not a recipe for enjoying oneself. Needless to say, we toured this fabulous city, did some shopping and even managed at midday asado in Tigre, a resort area down the River Plate.

Joe sitting down to his noon feast in an outdoor cafe in Tigre

I cant believe he ate the whole thing!

Joe, his wife Lynn and Tony (back seat) on the open-air top of the yellow city tour bus

History is everywhere, as traditionally uniformed guards preside over church crypts, monuments, national banks and government buildings

The downtown of Buenos Aires boasts wide avenues and old and new architecture as many of the pre-revolutionary buildings have been preserved alongside modern high risers

Next up, the bands, the workshops and the G5 main event.






Special Presentations

2010 George Sherriff Memorial Contest


George Sherriff For the 15th year, the George Sherriff Memorial Competition was held yesterday in Hamilton, Ontario. This edition brought 12 of the best amateur players from all corners of North America to play in 3 contests - a morning (submit 2), 6-8 March - an afternoon (submit 3) Piobaireachd and an evening (submit 2) MSR event. This was a true marathon for the competitors as well as the distinguished panel of adjudicators - Murray Henderson (Scotland), Terry Lee (BC) and Peter Aumonier (ON). MC for the event was Ed Neigh, who often stole the show with so much history and serious or humorous anecdotes on the tunes and their composers. Truly this was a complete day! Emerging as the 2010 Sherriff overall winner was Andrew Laird from Winnipeg, MB. As Bob Worrall indicated in the prize presentation, it was certainly a "horse race" between Andrew and the runner-up, Glenn Walpole of Tiverton, ON with Andrew winning the Piobaireachd and Glenn taking top honors in the MSR. The 6-8 went to Bobby Durning (Milltown,NJ), the 2008 overall winner.Andrew Laird and the judges

Listen to  the winning performances:

Andrew Laird

Piobaireachd - The MacGregor's Salute 

MSR - The Abercairney Highlanders, Lady Louden, The Sheepwife 

6-8 March  - Dr. Ross's Welcome to the Argyllshire Gathering, Cameron MacFadyen

Glenn Walpole 

Glenn Walpole

Piobaireachd The Massacre of Glencoe

MSR - The Lochaber Gathering, The Shepherd's crook, The Sheepwife 

6-8 March  - Ballochyle, Dr. Ross's Welcome to the Argyllshire Gathering



Winter Storm 2010
Gold Medal Champion

Andrew Lee receiving the Gold Medal from R.G.Hardie's Alastair Dunn
Andrew Lee(left), receiving Gold medal from R. G. Hardie's Alastair Dunn
Listen to Andrew playing The Big Spree

Silver Medal Champion

Brian MacKenzie of Seattle, Washington
Brian MacKenzie, Seattle, Washington
Playing The Lament for Mary MacLeod

Ceol Beag Champion

Jamie Troy receiving the Henderson Medal for Ceol Beag from the owner of Henderson Imports, Jim Moore
James P. Troy receiving the Henderson Medal from Jim Moore, owner of Henderson's Imports
Listen to Jamie's winning Light Music Performance


The 2009 George Sherriff Memorial Competition

The 14th annual George Sherriff Memorial was held in Hamilton, ON on Saturday, November 21, 2009. As always, the crew of volunteers spearheaded by event organizer Bob Worrall did a splendid job, bringing professionalism to this major amateur event - great ambience in St. Paul's Presbyterian Church - superb playing and listening conditions with a concert-like atmosphere  The enthusiastic audience was treated to light music and piobaireachd by 10 performers from as far away as Hong Kong, Oregon, Washington State, New Jersey, Maine and Texas. Ontario and Nova Scotia pipers represented Canada.

The panel of adjudicators represented the best in competitive and musical experience. Jack Lee from Surrey, BC; Reay MacKay from Orillia, ON; Stuart Liddell from Inverary, Scotland.

Jack Lee, Reay MacKay, Stuart Liddell - the bench for the Sherriff

With wins in the 6/8 March and Piobaireachd events, the overall winner went to Richard Gillies of Portland, Oregon. while winner of the MSR was Houston, Texas resident, Anthony Masterson.

Richard Gillies with the Sherriff Banner and Dunbar Trophy          Anthony Masterson with the MSR Trophy

                                Richard Gillies                             Anthony Masterson

Listen to Richard Gillies' winning Piobaireachd  The MacLeod's Salute

Listen to Richard Gillies' winning 6/8 marches Cameron MacFadyen and The Heights of Casino

Listen to Anthony Masterson's winning MSR  Pipe Major Willie MacLean, The Doune of Invernochty and The Blackberry Bush 

Liz Dunsire, Bellingham, WA at the 2009 George Sherriff Memorial


The day was filled with many other excellent performances. In my opinion, the standard was as high as ever, thus making the task of adjudicating quite daunting. I congratulate the judges on selecting Liz Dunsire's A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick, second in the piobaireachd event.


Thomas Harrington, Glenholme, Nova Scotia


Perhaps the best sounding bagpipe of all belonged to Thomas Harrington of Glenholme, Nova Scotia. A rich harmonic blend of chanter and drones resonated throughout his MacKay's Banner and for this he was rewarded with third prize in the piobaireachd.


Bobby Durning, Milltown, NJ - 2008 Champion


The 2008 Champion, Bobby Durning from Milltown, NJ was not to be denied. A fourth in the piobaireachd, third in the 6/8 march and a second in the MSR secured him  second place overall. Listen to his MSR, The Knightswood Ceilidh, Caber Feidh and Broadford Bay.


One of the pleasant surprises of the evening was the presentation of the George Sherriff Memorial trophy and banner to Richard Gillies. The presenters were Jamie Sherriff, grandson of George and his son, Tyler (great grandson)

Jamie and Tyler Sherriff presenting trophy and banner to Richard Gillies

Pipes Donated by McCallum Bagpipes, Kilmarnock, Scotland

Glenn Walpole, Tiverton, Ontario

Drawing the unenviable position of playing first on in the first contest fell to Glenn Walpole of Tiverton, Ontario. For his initial performance in the Sherriff, he played an excellent selection of 6/8 marches early in the morning. His "John MacColl's Farewell to the Scottish Horse and Dr. Ross's 50th Welcome to the Argyllshire Gathering"  gained him the fourth place nod in the 6/8 march contest.

Brendan Culver 

Fifth place in the piobaireachd went to Brendan Culver making his debut at the Sherriff. He acquitted himself well with the Lament for the Viscount of Dundee. If there was a prize for preparation in the tuning room for your performance on stage, Brendan would most assuredly take top honours. He presented himself to the judges with pipes in tune, a small play down and then right into the Viscount... most impressive. 

And finally, the Captain's Corner award for teacher of the year - unanimous selection by the committee!

It must go to Bruce Gandy with three students in the Sherriff - Richard Gillies (The Champion), Thomas Harrington and Chris Lee (Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong). Congratulations Bruce on setting high standards and to your students for attaining them!

Bruce Gandy and Andrew Berthoff, editor, PD Online 

Bruce Gandy and Andrew Berthoff, Editor, PD Online



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