The Colorado Youth Pipe Band have grown, through real competition, hard work and strong, dedicated leadership to dominate the Colorado Piping Community. And that’s just the beginning . . . .
The Colorado Youth Pipe Band, the only competitive pipe band in Colorado comprised entirely of youth under 18, competes regularly – locally, nationally and internationally – against all-adult bands, and has for a lot of years.
Their first competition was just about 20 years ago, as a matter of fact, and they’ve not missed a year since. And, in the past three years, the CYPB Competition Band has dominated all of the major Front Range contests, gaining or retaining status of “Band of the Games” for nearly every one.
Until this year, that is. In the 2009 Long’s Peak Scottish/Irish Festival, held in Estes Park from September 10th – 13th, the Competition Band found themselves a bit back on their heels, and slipped just a bit in their standings. They placed just 2nd in the Quick March Medley, and 3rd in the Time Limit Medley, and lost the “Band of the Games” title, for the first time since 2006, to the Denver/District team (you can find more on the Long’s Peak Festival and the live music on constant display at Denver Post Reverb).
In the 2009 Long’s Peak Scottish/Irish Festival, held in Estes Park from September 10th – 13th, the Competition Band found themselves a bit back on their heels, and slipped just a bit in their standings.
Not to worry, though, according to Band Director Jamie Cuthill.
Cuthill believes the CYPB is as strong as ever, maybe stronger. In his view, the band’s slight downtick in results is a temporary thing, and is more likely a result of the local piping community finally taking notice and improving, rather than an off year for the youth band, and Cuthill intends to prove it as soon as the next rounds of competition start up again.
After all, a 2nd and 3rd aren’t all bad. Especially considering that the CYPB drummers took First in both contests for the Long’s Peak Scottish/Irish Games overall, and considering CYPB member Billy Woods was named “Piper of the Games,” and dominated in all of the amateur soloist competitions. CYPB’s Highlands Dancers also placed well in all of the dancing competitions this year. It was only in the overall standings that CYPB was edged out. But Cuthill thinks the sting of that wee edging will be enough to inspire the members to pick up their game in response to the community, and regain their former prowess, as well as their title, quickly.
The Youth Band wasn’t always this successful. In fact, from the time it was founded by Neil Gillette around 1989 until the competitions of the past four or five years, it was largely viewed by the piping community as a “kiddie’s class,” (at worst) or as a sort of “farm team” for other Colorado pipe bands. It started out with 10 students and just a few instructors back then, and has since grown into a small community within the state piping community, with no less than ten instructors for piping, drumming and highlands dance. These teachers lead upwards of 22 piping and drumming, and 13 dancing students, as well as the additional 25 members of the Competition Band. And after the past few years, they’ve long had the ear of the community, and a whole lot more respect.
“When I took over as Director,” says Cuthill, “I had just returned to Denver from a while in British Columbia, where I’d noticed a marked difference in the way the youth bands, and under-age pipers in general, were viewed. That difference is also obvious in the way they’re taught. In the Colorado piping community, for the longest time the youth band was never taken seriously as a competitive force. I decided to change that, and started working on it right when I took over in 2002.”
“It took a little while, but [former drumming instructor] Colin Hickman, [piping instructor] Shannon Long and I noticed something “click,” during a performance on St. Patrick’s Day at The Irish Snug [on Colfax] in 2006,” explains Cuthill. “We heard something in the band’s sound suddenly change, and all of us looked at each other as if to ask ‘Where’d that come from?’”
From that point on, the band consistently placed high in results in virtually all Colorado games and competitions, literally dominating all of them for the past three years. Not only that – the band traveled to Scotland to compete in 2007, and took 2nd place against more than twenty bands from all across the country in general competition. They also took 2nd place when qualifying for the Finals. As a result, CYPB still stands as the first and only band from Colorado to win any competition, and bring home a prize, in Scotland.
“We heard something in the band’s sound suddenly change, and all of us looked at each other as if to ask ‘Where’d that come from?’”
When Cuthill started as Director, he admits, one of his inspirations was to prove to the community that the Youth Band could not only be competitive, but could, in fact, be the best.
“At first, I wanted to make the others eat their hats. It inspired me. But it quickly grew to be more about the kids. Colin, Shannon, the other instructors and I have been driven to make this band the best in Colorado – the best in the country – regardless of age. But it’s been the kids that have done the work, and they deserve the credit,” says Cuthill.
“We just needed to treat them as adult learners, as true competitors, which was not the opinion or belief of the community when the band started out,” Cuthill remembers. “Outside the States, piping is actually about as close to a sport as music can come. Young pipers in B. C., for instance, live, eat and breathe piping. Piping, drumming and dancing are all part of their regular curriculum in school – they practice every day, and compete almost every week. We wanted to teach our students to take their piping that seriously, from the start, no matter what they heard from the community.”
That attitude and dedication has paid off, so far.
As far as the recent Long’s Peaks results, Cuthill feels he may have even allowed the band to “rest on their laurels” a bit over the previous year, and perhaps for good reason. Sometimes nothing teaches like the sting of defeat, even a minor one.
“I might’ve let them relax a wee bit,” he says, “to teach them that they can’t afford to be lazy. Not if we’re going to be the best in the world.”
Check out this documentary by Leigh Cousins, Andrew Crighton and Ryan Ovadia, from April of 2009, for an in-depth look at the prowess and dedication this group shows: