It’s in the bag

Co­ley’s Point teen ex­cels as bag­piper


It’s April 24, 2010 and Princess Anne is be­ing met at Mile One Cen­tre in down­town St. John’s with great fan­fare. She’s there to present new colours to the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment.

The City of St. John’s Pipe Band is there, per­form­ing be­fore the only daugh­ter of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

In­cluded in the band’s ranks is Blake Cran­ford of Co­ley’s Point, Bay Roberts. It’s a defin­ing mo­ment for the young bag­piper with an en­gag­ing per­son­al­ity.

“I felt very ex­cited to be the youngest per­son in the band,” he re­cently said.

He’s al­ready leav­ing his mark on the bag­pip­ing tra­di­tion in the prov­ince. Cran­ford’s very first pipe teacher, David Al­li­son, thinks Blake, “is be­com­ing an ex­cel­lent piper. He’s an inspiration to oth­ers.”

Not a bad ref­er­ence for a 16year-old to add to his re­sume.

He’s the first to ad­mit it’s un­usual for a young per­son to play the pipes. “It’s not an overly pop­u­lar in­stru­ment,” he said. None of his friends play the in­stru­ment, but “ they find it rather in­ter­est­ing, and re­ally sup­port me,” he added.

Cran­ford’s in­ter­est in bag­pipes — pipes, for short — was piqued when he was 12. He was at­tend­ing a sum­mer cadet camp in New Brunswick, and lis­tened trans­fixed as a pipe and drum band prac­ticed.

“It was an amaz­ing sound,” he re­mem­bered. “I re­ally loved it.”

Back home, he told his par­ents he wanted to learn to play the pipes. The near­est band was the City of St. John’s Pipe Band. The Cran­fords con­tacted David Al­li­son, who took Cran­ford on as a stu­dent.

Learn­ing to play pipes is a chal­leng­ing en­deav­our. For one thing, the nine-note, wood­wind in­stru­ment has its own lan­guage. Cran- ford started with a “prac­tice chanter,” then ad­vanced to a “prac­tice goose” and, fi­nally, to an ac­tual set of bag­pipes.

Pipes are unique if for no other rea­son than their dis­tinc­tive and pro­nounced dron­ing. A unique fea­ture of bag­pipes is an in­flat­able airbag which pro­vides air to the sound-mak­ing com­po­nents, reeds at­tached to pipes. “ When you take a breath, you squeeze your arm in to keep the air pres­sure equal,” Cran­ford said. “It takes a lot of multi-task­ing.”

Pip­ing is all about em­bel­lish­ments. “It’s re­ally what gives a tune its rhythm and turns it into a piece of mu­sic,” he said.

Heather Ann Wright, also of St. John’s, is Cran­ford’s cur­rent teacher. She helps him with the qual­ity of his play­ing and choos­ing the tunes he plays in competition.

In army cadet pip­ing, he has achieved his ad­vanced five of five lev­els and, in civil­ian pip­ing, his third of five grades.

Cran­ford knows from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence the im­por­tance of prac- tice. It takes years to per­fect the art, but he’s com­mit­ted and de­ter­mined.

An­other keen sup­porter is Cran­ford’s girl­friend, Natinna Ib­bit­son of Monc­ton, New Brunswick. She’s a tenor drum­mer in sev­eral cadet pipe bands. Though bi­ased, she calls him “an amaz­ing piper.” His pip­ing “ takes your breath away,” she added. Mean­while, he’s mod­est about his abil­i­ties.

Pip­ing is a se­ri­ous in­vest­ment of both time and money. A “de­cent set” of pipes costs about $2,000, Cran­ford said, though his par­ents paid $3,000 for his, and they can go as high as $10,000.

Yes, Cran­ford wears a red kilt, dis­play­ing the Maclaine of Lochbuie tar­tan, when play­ing with the City of St. John’s Pipe Band.

His pip­ing has opened many doors. He has played in the Royal Nova Scotia In­ter­na­tional Tat­too in Hal­i­fax. He has played with the Prairie Re­gion Pipes and Drums, Banff, Al­berta. He has played for the RCMP Mu­si­cal Ride. And, he has served as pipe sergeant and pipe ma­jor with the very band that in­spired him as a 12-year-old in New Brunswick.

Cran­ford gets the oc­ca­sional gig, from Re­mem­brance Day events to help­ing to pipe on stage the Scot coun­try mu­sic artist, Johnny Reid, when he ap­peared in St. John’s; from per­for­mances at As­cen­sion Col­le­giate to a re­cent Robert Burns Night at the Spa­niard’s Bay Le­gion.

Though pip­ing is one of Cran­ford’s pas­sions, his mu­si­cal tastes are eclec­tic, rang­ing from New­found­land to Rus­sian mu­sic; from the Ea­gles to fel­low bag­piper, Bruce Gandy.

In the short-term, he’s plan­ning to com­pete in the Fred­er­ic­ton High­land Games this sum­mer, both with the At­lantic Re­gion Cadet Pipe and Drums Band and as a soloist. He’s been of­fered two sum­mer jobs, to teach pipes in Al­berta or New Brunswick. Ei­ther way, he can hardly be­lieve he will be paid to do some­thing he dearly loves.

His long-term plans are a lit­tle less def­i­nite. He would like to visit Scot­land, where the bag­pipe is the na­tional in­stru­ment. He wants to pur­sue a ca­reer in psy­chol­ogy. What­ever he chooses, bag­pip­ing will con­tinue to be a part of his life.

“He’s got a skill that will never leave him,” Al­li­son said. “ He’s a great role model.”

Photo by Bur­ton K. Janes/Spe­cial to The Com­pass

Blake Cran­ford of Co­ley’s Point ex­cels as a bag­piper.

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