Members of the Cowichan Pipes and Drums Society got to see the new Orient last month, performing in the massive Shanghai Tourism Festival and even fitting in some time to visit Beijing before returning to the Valley.
According to Diane Gregory, a member of the Society, the event was the trip of a lifetime and saw them away from home from Sept. 9-20.
It all began more than a year ago with an invitation to perform at the famous Festival.
“It’s a five day thing where, if they invite you, they pay for everything. So, we just had to pay for our airfare.”
However, the 39-member group decided that going all the way to China for five days was too short a time and extended their time in the Shanghai area by two days before going on to Beijing for three days more.
They started in Shanghai on a Friday night with a long rehearsal.
“It was bone-numbing and went on until one in the morning but it was great. There were people from everywhere, all over the world. We were the only Canadian group and the only Scottish/Celtic pipe band involved,” Gregory said.
The mix of participants was staggering.
“There was only one group from the States but there were groups from Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Mauritius, it was just amazing. The rehearsal was fun because you’re seeing groups practise in this big schoolyard area and you get to greet them. The Canadian group that went last year, a pipe band from Saskatchewan, said it was like going to the Olympics with all these countries represented,” she said.
The marquee event itself is a performance parade, a lot like the huge Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro.
A pipe band, being used to performing as it marches, fits right in to what is needed, she said.
“Every group that was there did something in the way of music in a parade down 2.2 kilometres of Huaihai Road in Shanghai. There was a big reviewing stand, all lit up, at the beginning with all the dignitaries. Then there are a few minor grandstand areas as you go along but mostly it’s people along the roadsides all the way along. They gave us a banner and we had our own in behind as well.”
In addition to that enormous moving show, the band was taken on tours to present public performances around Shanghai.
“We did three of them in Shanghai, one in one of the central courtyards at the Global Harbour Commercial Centre, which is the largest mall in Asia. We also performed on Nanjing Road, a pedestrian mall, and then another one at the Pearl Tower, which is that really fancy-shaped one you always see pictures of,” Gregory said.
They were lucky to enjoy some spectacular weather while they were there, too.
“The amazing thing was that they expect five blue sky days a year in Shanghai and we had three of them,” she said.
The impact of Shanghai, home to 24 million people, is huge to people from the Cowichan Valley.
“It was pretty amazing. There are fascinating things about the size of it. For instance when we build an apartment building we build a building. When they do it, they build 40 matching buildings. You’d look and you’d see all these brown ones and they all matched and then the next row was all matching grey ones.”
Once the Cowichan contingent had finished with their performance duties, they toured to gardens in Xuzhow, which is near Shanghai, as well as the shiny new Shanghai museum, and took a boat ride to see the area from the water.
“Our guide also took us on the maglev [magnetic levitation] train at 430 kilometres an hour. We regret that one of the guys didn’t take his bagpipes so we could have had the fastest bagpiper in the world,” Gregory said.
They also went to Beijing and were photographed on the Great Wall.
“It was certainly something you would only get one chance to do,” she said. “A once in a lifetime experience.”