Reaching for the top – 30 years later
|Photos on Flickr||Video on Youtube|
They’ve made their mark on the world stage and taken Simon Fraser University to places it might never have gone.
Hitting its 30th anniversary this year, the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band is looking for further success with its band of experience and youth.
The band, led by Jack and Terry Lee, became known as the SFU Pipe Band in 1981. The Lees were members of the local City of Port Moody Pipe band when SFU’s Scottish soccer coach, John Buchanan, approached them. He was asked by then President George Pedersen to help put a formal band together that would showcase the university’s Scottish heritage.
“When SFU first opened its doors there were scholarships for piping and drumming students who made appearances at university sports events,” recalls Pipe Sergeant Jack Lee. “At the same time SFU was becoming a world class university and there was a desire to celebrate its heritage.”
Sporting new kilts, the band was in place for the university’s first Convocation ceremony. “
The band, now at 47 members, started out at half of today’s size. “In the early years the band was not particularly good, it took us a while to figure out what it would take to make us good, so we didn’t start going to the Worlds until 1983,” says Jack.
“We learned more about instrument and how to keep it stable and in tune. We ramped up our practice schedule to twice a week – a big move for us, but the band got rapidly better, and we attracted some enthusiastic pipers.
“From then on it was contagious. We all got excited about the band. Only two years later we became North American champions – that was a big deal.”
The band competed annually at the Worlds since 1983. “We took second place in 1985 – that was huge and really gave us the bug to return,” says Terry Lee, the band’s pipe major. “We became good at learning from our mistakes and reviewing what worked and what didn’t, always striving for the next level. We’re still constantly trying to get better.”
Keeping up with the bagpipes’ evolution was key. “The instrument has changed dramatically, and we’ve stayed at the forefront of these changes,” says Jack. “Most important is that we’ve learned how to keep it stable and tuned, which has become a strength for us in competition.”
Leadership is another strength. Complementary skill sets and personalities - the connection formed as young brothers - make it work.
Together with Lead Drummer Reid Maxwell they’ve taken the band to six world championships and a top three spot nearly every time they compete in Glasgow.
“There’s a pride within the band which is uncommon,” says Jack. “We’ve been fortunate to attract members who are talented and committed.
“What keeps us going,” adds Terry, “is that we have the drive, the desire and the determination to constantly do better and challenge ourselves to win or be among the winners.”
There’s a pride too in representing SFU around the world, says Jack, noting how over the years they’ve become a destination band.“We’ve taken the name of SFU to places where it would never have been heard,” he says. “We try to do that with class and distinction. Our hope is to do that for many years to come.”
The Lees grew up in one of the world’s largest piping families and both learned to play at an early age. Terry was first a highland dancer. “We grew up playing in all corners of the house,” says Jack, who would later give up his accounting job to teach full time. Terry manages Tartantown, a Scottish retail store.
The band now includes six Lees – with Jack’s sons Colin, Andrew and John and Terry’s son Alastair marking the next generation. Neither Jack nor Terry has plans to hang up the pipes anytime soon.
The band will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a concert at New York’s Lincoln Center next May.