E3161 Victoria Edwards (RMC 2003) interviewed the RMC Drum Major, WO Eugene Heather, who was posted to RMC in March 2010.
E-veritas: How did you become a Drum Major? Any highlights?
WO Eugene Heather: I joined the Canadian Forces as an infantry soldier. I joined the Pipes and Drums (P&Ds) of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Canadian Regiment (2 RCR) in 1987 as a secondary duty. I learned how to play the snare drum from scratch with the 2 RCR. In the 1990s, I deployed to the former Yugoslavia and to Oka. I was accepted and completed the QL 6A Drum Instructor course in Borden, Ontario. I auditioned and was accepted into the musician trade (871) and was officially rebadged as a Sergeant musician with the 3ASG Gagetown P&Ds in 1996. I coordinated the drum corps of the 2 RCR and 3 ASG Gagetown P&Ds until the spring of 2010. I served in Gagetown for twenty three years as a Drum Instructor. A highlight was performing on tour in Moscow with the 2 RCR. Another highlight was the opportunity to work in the planning, production and editing of a recording of the 2RCR P&Ds on CD.
E-veritas: You had the idea for the “A Soldier’s Christmas” Benefit Concert at CFB Gagetown. Do you have any advice for the “RMCC Concert in Scarlets”?
WO Eugene Heather: Yes. “A Soldier’s Christmas” is a benefit concert in late November at the CFB Gagetown Theatre for the Oromocto Food Bank. Like the “Concert in Scarlets”, “A Soldier’s Christmas” involves Pipes & Drums (P&Ds), Brass & Reed (B&Rs), Choir, Highland Dancers (HLDs), and Stage Band. The audience wants value for their money which corresponds to engagement, emotional resonance and drama. An audience of RMC Alumni, family and friends who are gathered for a good cause are (already) engaged. Music that resonates emotionally to alumni and family may include: the “RMC cheer”, “Precision” (RMC March); “Alexander Mackenzie (RMC March for bagpipes); the College Hymn; “The R.M.C. march & two step (1900)” for piano; songs from “Leo the Royal Cadet (ca 1889)” and the Tri-Service March Past. Dramatic performances include the drum line from RMC P&Ds performed under black lights. A drum roll is a technique to produce a sustained sound and effects to built anticipation on a percussion instrument. The RMC drum salute –a series of fancy and intricate beatings was performed impressively by nine snare drums, 6 tenor drums and 1 base drum. On opening night, everything should go off without a hitch and the audience should be treated to music, dance, drill and patriotism. The audience should know what to expect and should feel a mixture of emotions as the performance progresses. The band members should feel proud of their accomplishments and teamwork. You can watch the RMC P&Ds perform on You Tube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbDdr_p63Ck
E-veritas: You were the senior drum major of the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Canadian Forces at the Virginia International Tattoo’s 2010. Do you have any advice for ensuring the RMCC bands perform well together?
WO Eugene Heather: Yes. The Canadian Forces sent a disparate group of 70 P&Ds from various regiments, bases, and wings who slowly began to jell as a team. The Canadians hadn’t rehearsed their act until we arrived on the ground in Virginia so we spent about 14 hours a day rehearsing routines with our fellow cast members. When I joined the RMC band in March, it was far less of a `baptism by fire` since I was able to have a good hand over from WO Smith. With a new or established band, the drum major needs to convey musical abilities, leadership qualities, attitude, and passion. The drum major is not only responsible for knowing the music of the ensemble and conducting it appropriately. The drum major is responsible for providing commands with a mace to the ensemble regarding where to march, what to play, and what time to keep.
E-veritas: I understand that the CFB Gagetown P&Ds played music in kilts on a frozen lake during the middle of winter.
WO Eugene Heather: That is true. The CFB Gage town’s P&Ds performed at three hockey games that were taped by students from School District 16 in February 6th and then upload to the Aliant and event website for CF troops serving in Afghanistan. We were cold, but it was worth the sacrifice in order to capture the game for troops overseas. Despite the frozen temperature on the lake surface, the odd cracking ice noise startled some of the band members. Gagetown won the tournament and dominated the games for all three days.
E-veritas: I understand that you have a diverse musical background including woodwind, bagpipes and Highland dance.
WO Eugene Heather: I started out my musical career as a woodwind player playing the clarinet, sax with my high school marching band. As a member of the highland dance team of the 2 RCR, I performed the Highland Broadsword Dance, which is traditionally performed by men prior to battle. I play the pipes a little. I know how to hold the bagpipe and position your fingers, the different reeds used for playing the bagpipes, notes and scales, chanter and movements. Due to improvements in technology in recent years such as gortex bags and synthetic drone reeds, the bagpipes are easier to maintain than they were in the past. For many years, I have performed Irish traditional, Celtic and even rock music on bass guitar with various civilian bands.
E-veritas: How has your family responded to the posting to RMC in Kingston?
WO Eugene Heather: I have been unaccompanied in Kingston since March, 2010. My family has been supportive and optimistic about the move from Oromocto to Kingston. Unlike many military families, our children were able to grow up with friends in Oromocto and we are unfamiliar with the relocation process. During the 50th anniversary of the CFB Gagetown, I realized that I served in Gagetown for 25 years. I am looking forward to my family arriving in Kingston at the end of July. My spouse is currently getting rid of stuff since the CFB Kingston PMQ doesn’t have a garage or basement for storage. The move will be more difficult for our 16 year old daughter who is in Grade 11 since she will leave lifelong friends. Our two sons won’t be joining us since they are playing football with the Bishop’s University Gaitors.
E-veritas: Why do the RMC P&Ds wear kilts with the Mackenzie Tartan?
WO Eugene Heather: The RMC P&Ds wear the Mackenzie Tartan, which is a military tartan taken from an early version of the Black Watch (developed about 1729). The Mackenzie Tartan is the regimental tartan developed by the 73rd Highland Regiment (and continued later by the Seaforth Highlanders). P&Ds traditionally wear kilts to remember that the English Government of the day banned the wearing of kilts and all tartans after the Battle of Culloden. The Battle of Culloden was an uprising by the Scottish Highlanders on April 16, 1746. For 36 years, the kilt was only allowed to be worn by the Scottish Regiments. The kilt is an integral part of the P&Ds` identity. The wearing of tartan is traditionally considered to be a morale booster for the troops.
E-veritas: How have you found the RMC P&Ds and HLDs?
WO Eugene Heather: I see my role as to facilitate and mentor the cadets, who are bright optimistic, keen, and eager young leaders. Although I may recommend this or that, I don’t want to change something if the system in place is working. The cadets arrive at our early morning band practice (6 am-7:30am) on Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays remarkably wide eyed and bushy tailed. They aren’t whiners. Some cadets would prefer to jump straight to the rehearsals on new and complex material. I encourage them to work through the basics and easier material first. The senior cadets are remarkably capable and confident as they instruct the beginners. All of the cadets are learning. Some junior cadets, who are talented musicians and dancers with impressive musical resumes, instruct more senior cadets. I find that the RMC bands offer extensive opportunities for working your buns off, performing and travelling. The RMC band members are pranksters. I am open minded towards skylarks. My own pranks are not for the record. As long as the band work is coming together, I believe in working and playing hard. The high spirited skylarks, gash parade and feu de joie are fun and relieve stress.
E-veritas: How do you recruit new members of the P&Ds and HLDs?
WO Eugene Heather: We always welcome new members. The RMC P&Ds are committed to teaching serious beginners on P&Ds and HLDs. All band members are provided lessons. Pipers and drummers interested in becoming a member of the RMC band must demonstrate their musical abilities. Normally you will be asked to sit in with the P&Ds for a period of time, for example six months, to determine if you can perform as a viable piper or drummer at the required level and can adjust to the rigours of duty expected of a member of a RMC P&Ds. If you are looking for a serious-minded and busy pipe band, then you’ll feel at home with us. Some cadets have natural talent and everyone needs to walk before they run. Occasionally, a band member may find that an instrument is not for them and will switch to another instrument. Some members will continue with music throughout their careers. The band is a terrific place to learn about leadership since senior members facilitate and guide the junior members. Although the cadets are busy with their studies and athletics, they manage to spend about 4.5 to 5 hours a week learning a relatively difficult instrument like the pipes or drums. Playing an instrument is a stress reliever, especially banging on the drums. Although we try to avoid disturbing the cadets and Commandant Truelove`s family, who may be sleeping from 6am-7:30am, I’d prefer to rehearse more as a band outdoors. The peninsula is a lovely place to practice the movements outdoors.
E-veritas: What teaching resources do you recommend?
WO Eugene Heather: The RMC P&Ds and HLDs tailor the musical instruction individually. Based on reference material, such as the piping tutor I make up training regimes. The band members progress at different levels and different paces. Some cadets learn via books, videos and CDs and others respond better to one on one instruction. Four years is enough time to play, practice and even learn a new instrument. Since there are beginners, we start with the rudiments. The individual exercises progress to practice as a corps. If an individual has the talent, I don’t hold them back. They can push through quickly. Leaders emerge and grow in the band. In effect, the members can progress through the A, B, and C band. I think of the parade marches as the meat and potatoes of the P&Ds repertoire. The jigs, hymns, and drumrolls are the cheese.
WO Eugene Heather: We can save money by maintaining the kit we have. A kilt is probably one of the most expensive items of clothing in the P&Ds wardrobe. A kilt can certainly last a lifetime with proper care. Be careful while wearing a kilt, for example avoid drinking red wine. If you spill anything on your kilt then immediately dab the spot with a cold wet cloth to remove it. Do not rub at the spot, or use paper towels as this will spread it rather than remove it. After wearing a feather bonnet with a hackle in the rain, avoid throwing it in a corner where it will get mouldy. A kilt should be aired out, especially if it was worn in a smoky environment. A kilt should be dry cleaned or washed in cold water with a mild wool detergent. Once the kilt is dry, you have to very carefully press the pleats. Hang the kilt on a kilt hanger, with enough room on either side to ensure that the pleats are hanging straight, and are not creased by other items. A kilt carrier will ensure the kilt is always protected while it hangs in your wardrobe.
E-veritas: I understand that you have been working with an Officer Cadet on cataloguing the uniforms using a spreadsheet you developed.
WO Eugene Heather: Yes. After the graduation parade, the cadets tend to leave for summer On Job Training in a hurry. After receiving their band uniforms wet off their backs after grad parade, WO Smith and I arranged to send the kilts, tunics and Plaids to the tailors for dry cleaning. I have been working with OCdt Rachael Thompson, a 4th year piper in the RMC P&Ds to organize, inventory, size, label and catalogue the P&D and HLDs kit on an excel spreadsheet. I initially developed the spreadsheet, which includes cadet names and sizes at 3AGS P&Ds, which is a much smaller Canadian Forces volunteer band. At 3ASG, we tracked 30 tunics as opposed to 200 at RMC. Unlike 3ASG, the RMC P&Ds kilts are typically tall and slim, and many have been altered as the cadets grew thinner or taller. OCdt Thompson and I looked for stock numbers and sorted through the clothing. Although some kit will be sent for repair or disposal, much of the kit will be stored in the Haldeman basement (P&D) or Yeo Hall (HLDs) and put back in circulation in the fall. For example, 100 of the 200 pairs of white spats were salvageable. So far, we catalogued 200 kilt shirts/tunics; 50 feather bonnets with 8 inch feather hackles; and 200 white spats; cap badges, brooches and kilt pins; belts and belt buckles; kilt hose; jackets and vests; kilts; sashes; sporrans; and Sgian Dubhs (ceremonial knives). I will provide the computer stores list to DDCadets. Replacements will be procured through a Highland Accoutrements supplier and through system base supply. The Excel spreadsheet, which includes DND temporary issue cards, gives the P&Ds a higher level of control and accountability to maintain sufficient clothing for cadets. Although the band uniforms are purchased at public expense, we are determining whether the funds are from the RMC Operations and Maintenance budget or Ottawa. My goal is to prepare a tally of stores and a business plan with long and short term goals to replace the items over a couple of years. We’ll catalogue the instruments: For pipers, the instrument consists of the blowpipe, a bag, a chanter and 3 drones (one bass and 2 tenors), pipe cords and bag cover. For drummers, the instrument consist of snare, bass or tenor drum, drum harness, drum case and drum pad. We’ll catalogue consumable items like chanter reeds, practice pads (snare drums) and drum skins. Finally, there is a library of books, videos, and P&D music including previous RMC albums and recordings.