Men in skirts
Sierra Highlanders Pipe Band
In 1961, Scottish immigrant and former World War I pipe major John “Scotty” Sneddon approached the Reno Police Department about starting a Police Pipe Band. After recruiting only two police officers, Sneddon opened the band to civilians. Clad in the red and yellow tartan of the Buchanan clan, the group—the Sierra Highlanders Pipe Band—soon became a fixture at local events including Carson City’s Nevada Day parade.
Snare drummer and band president John LoGiurato attributes pipe bands’ appeal to their traditional ties to “honor, duty and patriotism—plus great music.”
“A lot of family connections in the band,” explains LoGiurato. The group’s 18-member roster is comprised of parents, spouses and siblings, including pipers Rick and Ron James, whose father was the original bass drummer for the band. Six years ago, LoGiurato’s son Joe joined as a piper. When the drum core became shorthanded, the guitarist and former rocker followed in his son’s footsteps a year later.
Tradition and family ties notwithstanding, pipe bands can be like pro sports teams with free agents moving between groups. Certain pipe bands are strictly focused on competition; others are centered on community performances. Where a rock band might be devastated if it’s short a bass player, a pipe band with multiple pipers and drummers has more flexibility. “Easier to change members,” says LoGiurato.
The group produced a CD in 2003 featuring guitars, trumpet, banjo, violin and one vocal track. Though composed primarily of traditional Celtic music, the CD includes a solo piper backed by a rock Latin beat, as well as a traditional pipe band medley performed on bluegrass instruments.
The Sierra Highlanders prefer a varied schedule, performing in competitions, parades and Celtic events. This past August, Nevada’s oldest pipe band represented the Silver State’s debut in the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. LoGiurato called the trip “a miracle” that involved rallying community support in a five-month period to raise the funds for the entire band to make the trip. The Sierra Highlanders placed respectfully in the competition, even beating out some of the local talent.
With their beloved Buchanan kilts literally starting to wear thin, the band opted to change its colors to the blue and green of the Mackay tartan in honor of John Mackay, an early Nevada miner and philanthropist, as well as pipe major Burch Palmer’s family clan.
According to legend, during the times when the tartan and bagpipes were illegal in Scotland, men placed pieces of their tartan in their Bibles. As each man opened his Bible to where the tartan lay, the minister placed his hand on the open Bible blessing the tartan and its family clan.
This year, the Sierra Highlanders will stay close to home, performing in the Nevada Day Parade in Carson City and the Veterans Day parade in Virginia City, as well as for local Celtic celebrations.
At Artown’s Celtic Celebration, the group will perform in the Massed Bands Parade, as well as during park performances and closing ceremonies at the festival, including the non-denominational Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans on Sunday.
As with any music, that of pipe bands has peaks and valleys. “But as with any classic form of music, there will always be revivals that create periods of increased interest as new generations discover the music form,” says LoGiurato.