The last thing you would expect to see in Rome on a warm Saturday afternoon is a band of kilt-clad pipers marching across a bright green field. Against all odds that was exactly what an audience of over 20,000 saw at the six nations rugby match between Italy and Scotland at the Flaminio stadium in March. For the occasion, the pipers and drummers of the City of Rome Pipe Band (CRPB), accompanied by two guest bands, played traditional Scottish tunes.
Similar events are not a novelty to the CRPB which, since its creation in October 2000, has had an increasing number of requests to take part in ceremonies and celebrations, to appear on television programmes and to participate in several festivals all over Italy, including Venices carnival.
News that Rome has its very own pipe band will delight Caledonian expatriates. Founded by a group of piping enthusiasts from Scotland, Brazil, Uruguay and the United States, the band is quite a melting pot. "Co-founders Paul Racionzer from Scotland and Erwin Flores from Brazil were the first to meet," said band manager and pipe major Tony Randell from Paisley. "At first they played Celtic music in Romes Irish pubs. Then in 2000 Flores bumped into Rick Empson, who had a hand in setting up Uruguays only two pipe bands, and Simon Emslie, who played with the Vale of Atholl pipe band and was in Rome on a years study programme."
Randell, who has also been a member of numerous other bands, joined Romes pipers in 2001. By then things were starting to take off. The band had already expanded to take in 60 players between pipers and drummers. Bookings started to come in fast in May 2001, after the band played in a free public concert at the Colosseum. Subsequent engagements included performing at the British embassy on the Queens official birthday, at the Fori Imperiali to celebrate one of Romes first ecological Sundays and at a childrens Christmas charity concert at Teatro Argentina in 2002, where they played alongside Dionne Warwick.
The network of bagpipe lovers began to blossom and new followers were coming in all the time. The only thing that the band was lacking was a uniform. Kilts were passed around, loaned and borrowed, but being expensive, it was not easy for all members to get their hands on one. Then Flores came across a notice on the internet that the city of Calgary police pipe band was selling its old uniforms at a good price. "We were incredibly lucky; not only had we found a uniform, but the tartan was the one we had already chosen to represent us," said Randell. The tartan was that of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who has a special connection to the Eternal City because he was born in Rome and was buried in St Peters.
Be-kilted and proud, the Rome pipe band made its first high-profile debut in February 2002, playing at Romes Flaminio stadium for that years rugby match between Italy and Scotland. A year and a half later it represented Italy for the first time at the world pipe band championship in Glasgow. "I never would have expected the band to become an almost full-time occupation," commented Randell happily.
Anyone with a little patience and a fondness for bagpipes can aspire to play with the group. Potential pipers and drummers can attend the bands music courses to learn the technique. "We are actively searching for new members," specified Randell.
Any homesick Scot can hire a piper or two to blast out a few tunes on any special occasion. This year the Caledonian Society of Rome celebrated Burns night (25 January) with a real Scottish dinner (complete with haggis and whisky), readings from the bards works, country dancing and the pipers parading up the corridor of Marymount School where the happening took place. The band works in close association with the Caledonian Society, which promotes and divulges Scottish culture and traditions in Rome. As Christopher Mc Elroy, rector of the Pontifical Scots College, pointed out during his speech on the night, "Rome is a good place to be Scottish or to become more Scottish." And now that it also has a pipe band to call its own, no one could ever question that.
For more information contact Tony Randell, tel. 335/7552890,
Photo by Paul Rossi