cultural diversity

I've been living in Smithers, BC for the past 2 years now. it's a lovely little town - inspired by Bavarian villages, dominated by a big mountain and surrounded by rolling hills, hay and cows. it wasn't a hard decision to move from Vancouver - the overinflated prices, crowded streets, crazy drivers, and distance from the wilderness eventually had me frustrated and cynical about where I was going in life. In Smithers, I bought my first house, I live with my significant other, I can go fishing, biking, or skiing whenever the mood strikes me. But I do miss a few things about Vancouver - I miss my friends, and I miss my bands.

Smithers is bagpiping no-mans-land. The nearest band is 2.5 hours away in Terrace. There is no such thing as a Highland Games. or a piping instructor. At first, I thought I'd made arrangements with a rather well-known piper in the Lower Mainland to take Skype lessons, but those fell through when he found out I had..well.. a job. So my piping languished for the better part of a year while I tried to sort myself out. Finally, I plucked up some determination and found another instructor - in South Africa. Oh wonders of the interwebs. It's gone remarkably smoothly given the 10-hour time difference. I set a goal of competing solo in Vancouver last March, and I did (not my best performance, but nothing to sneeze at either). And lately, I've been attempting to create some sort of piping culture in Smithers.

The cultural roots of Smithers are largely Swiss-Dutch-German. Main Street is styled after a Bavarian mountain town, the bakery is German, and the collection of surnames includes a lot of Van Der__'s and ___ersma's. So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that I only have 1 piping student so far. Smithers, it seems, just doesn't know what to do with a bagpiper.

In June, I played for the Canadian Cancer Society's Relay for Life. When I showed up in my uniform, the organizer said, "wow, you dressed up and everything!". I kind of wondered what he expected when he hired a bagpiper... shorts and flip-flops? bunny suit? Anyway, I piped the cancer survivors and their caregivers around the track. twice. Now, in my experience down south, this would be a cause for celebration. Imagine, all these people beating cancer! It's inspirational! It's thrilling! And now they're being celebrated with a bagpipe-led procession, complete with RCMP colour guard! But you know what? As I marched around, leading these inspirational people, the crowd was dead. silent. and when I finally pulled up to the front of the stage and stopped, the crowd looked at me like I had a second head. The MC politely said thank you, and I wandered off. The RCMP were appreciative - "wow", they said. "You're actually a good bagpiper!" I gather the standard they've previously witnessed hasn't been too high around here. And apart from that, nobody else talked to me. There just doesn't seem to be that much interest in bagpipes here. So my latest poster around town advertising my services as a piping instructor proclaim that there's "no Scottish-ness required!" lest this be keeping my Dutch neighbours from trying a new hobby.

So apparently, I have a tough job ahead of me if I want to create a bagpiping culture in Smithers. But I'm hopeful - my dad's band has included in the past, people of Japanese, Romanian and First Nations descent, so there's hope for me yet. Now I just need to learn some German tunes.