Will bagpipe tradition be deflated?

The 83rd annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, our largest and most geographically diverse conservation organization, will be held Feb. 23-25 at Calgary’s Glenmore Inn & Convention Centre.

The 83rd annual conference of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, our largest and most geographically diverse conservation organization, will be held Feb. 23-25 at Calgary’s Glenmore Inn & Convention Centre.

A few weeks before each AFGA conference, some major or perceived controversy erupts. This year, on Jan.31, Maurice Nadeau, a past AFGA president and no Scot at all, but a proud Metis, blew the whistle: “It has come to my attention that AFGA is doing away with tradition. I have heard that there will be no Grand Entrance, and no piper, at this year’s President’s Banquet and Awards . . . I have always thought the whole entrance ceremony elevated the president, the executive and most of all, the association. What’s next; jeans, T shirts and KFC?”

Well. . . . ! Past presidents and life members unanimously feel likewise and the bagpipes brouhaha has inflated my inbox like a bagpipe with six dozen wails and laments. There are a few excuses from executive members, most citing solidarity and the duty to support a decision.

Some life members and past presidents doubt an executive vote was ever taken, and claim this was purely a presidential decree, and perhaps the only thing he has done in the first year of his two-year term. They are confused and amazed by president Conrad Fennema’s “explanatory” email of Feb 1st: “Leading up to this concerns were brought up that we were loosing (sic) contact with the clubs and members. Suggestions were tossed around and a more personal entrance to the presidential ball by the new executive was discussed. This decision was not made by one but by all, as recorded in the minutes of the December executive meeting. (‘A consensus was reached to omit the piper and personalize the executive’s entrance.’) Thus the decision will stand. I personally feel we are loosing (sic, again) that personal touch and I feel we have to try and get that back.”

Apparently the “personal touch” will be got back by the executive and guests stopping as they stroll to the head table to chat with delegates. That is likely to get them bitten, if I know my hungry AFGA delegates.

Interestingly, the real tradition at many formal banquets is that the main course is piped in: the roast beef, maybe even haggis.

Recently, at the AFGA banquets, too many hams have been piped in, mike-grabbing executive members who droned on so long that there was little time left before midnight for the dancing and socializing among delegates and them with executives that has traditionally been such an important part of these conferences.

Personally, I love the pipes . . . sometimes . . . such as at Jasper Park Lodge at sundown, piping Amazing Grace with a loon wailing counterpoint out on the lake. I have a tape, in the event I relent and have a funeral.

There are ambiguous responses to the pipes, as Shylock says in Merchant of Venice: “Some men . . . when the bagpipe sings i’ the nose, cannot contain their urine.”

Ronnie Corbett defined a gentleman as someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t, and Oscar Wilde said: “thank God there’s no smell.”

Then there are quizzes appropriate for grand marches and outdoors people.

Q: “What’s the difference between a bagpipe and a chainsaw?”

A: “You can tune a chainsaw.”

Q: “Why do bagpipers march while they play?”

A: “It’s harder to hit a moving target.”

Piper and formality aside, it is by the establishment of a protocol, tradition and a good MC who does not lightly surrender the mike, or for long, that keep awards banquets moving along and get the formalities over in time for the socializing among the delegates and them with the executive.

Things started to go to hell when smoking was totally banned from banquet halls, thus removing the major reason for the Toast to the Queen. Then most other vestiges of protocol for a civilized banquet went or were forgotten, and the long, boring gong shows started.

What started with ceremony and dignity with the piper ended in chaos, sometimes as late as 11 p.m., with tired and disgusted delegates heading for the exits and some sleep.

Things got so bad that in 1981 president, Don Hayden, asked two past presidents, the late Tom O’Keefe and I, to establish a protocol and a script for the President’s Banquet and get a good MC. With Garnet Anthony of the CBC as MC things went well (banquet over by 9 p.m.) for a few years, and then started to regress again.

Fortunately, the “old guys,” the people who remember AFGA’s long (104 years) history, the past presidents and life members, are starting to think beyond just bagpipes and are working toward the establishment of an AFGA protocol-policy for the President’s Banquet.

I’m betting it will both include the piper and foster that personal touch the executive seems to want, but has no idea how to get, other than a bagpipe ban.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning writer living in Red Deer.

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