When Warfield resident, Rob Hamilton, was a 14-year-old member of the local Air Cadets who happened to attend a weekend pipes and drums seminar in Creston in 2005, he probably didn’t have any grand plans about where learning to play the bagpipes might take him.
Now, nine years later, he is a member of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band (VPPB) and is currently in England, preparing to play at both Buckingham and Windsor Palace for Prince William and possibly even the Queen this Sunday and Monday.
The VPPB is 100-years old this year and decided to take on the U.K. trip as a celebration of its centennial. After spending almost two years navigating the complicated process of obtaining approval through the Canadian High Commission and British Home Office, as well as doing some serious fundraising, the band members finally received an email from the group’s Pipe Major that this spring that it had, “received confirmation from the Household Division that H.M. Queen Elizabeth II [had] approved our request to perform the Beating Retreat followed by providing musical support for the St. James Palace detachment of the Queen’s Guard.”
The band will be playing at two Beating Retreat ceremonies at the Horse Guard’s Parade ground and six Guard Mountings (the official name for the Changing of the Guard ceremonies) four of which are at Buckingham Palace and two at Windsor Castle.
The VPPB is, purportedly, the first non-military band to play at a Guard Mount in 350 years.
Hamilton recalls his start with the Trail Pipe Band which led him, eventually, to the current honour of playing for the Royal family.
“When I got back from the Creston trip I was contacted by Gordon Titsworth, who invited me to come out to extra practices he held on Thursday nights at Webster Elementary free of charge,” said Hamilton in an email Tuesday from the U.K. “After about half a year he helped me purchase a set of bagpipes and a few months later I started turning out with the Trail Pipe Band on Wednesday nights.”
Titsworth said that, even as a young teenager, Hamilton’s interest in the pipes and his personality made him stand out from the other kids.
“There were three boys who came back with chanters from the workshop and he was the only one who stayed with it,” said Titsworth. “He just fit in immediately and he just loved the instrument. He was adult right from the beginning and with his particular sense of humour, he fit right in with the band.”
After graduating from Rossland Secondary School, Hamilton carried on to Selkirk College and eventually to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, to pursue a degree in history, where he spent eight months playing with the award winning Simon Fraser Pipe Band.
Finding the practice schedule with the highly competitive Simon Fraser band too much to maintain with his studies, Hamilton took a break until last September when, on a visit home, Murray McKenzie, Pipe Major of the Trail band, suggested he try out for the Vancouver Police Band, and put Hamilton in contact with another former Trail member, Dave Glover, who is now a member of the VPPB.
After an exchange of emails with Glover, Hamilton started with the VPPB last November, leading him to now be in London anticipating his royal debut.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of this. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Hamilton. “I’m grateful to the people in Trail who taught me how to play and got me started down this road and put up with me. I’m also very grateful to the VPPB who welcomed me into their group with no hesitation and nothing but encouragement.”