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Battlefield Band headlines annual Balmoral Classic in Oakland

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Battlefield Band
Scotland's Battlefield Band

The music of the pipes-and-fiddle Battlefield Band got its inspiration directly from American folk music, not kilt-clad Highlands warriors, one of its members says.

“We were listening to American folk music back in the ’70s,” says fiddler Alasdair White, “and we all started to say, ‘Hey, we have our own music like that. We could do that.’ ”

That band that grew from the sounds of Bob Dylan and his like will play Nov. 22 at Central Catholic High School in Oakland.

Their visit here — which White calls “returning to the scene of the crime” because of a number of earlier visits — will be the featured concert of the annual Balmoral Classic.

That event is a celebration of Scottish music by the Balmoral School of Piping & Drumming founded and directed by the North Side’s George Balderose.

The three-day event opens with the Gathering, a food-drink-and-music get-together Nov. 21 at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland, featuring piping and drumming by some of the talented guests of the event.

“Besides the music, we’ll have some iconic Scottish food and whiskeys,” Balderose says.

Starting at 9 a.m. Nov. 22 at Central Catholic, young pipers from across the nation will compete in the U.S. Junior Solo Bagpiping and Solo Snare Drumming Competition. Watching the competition is free.

Closing out the event at 10 a.m. Nov. 23 will be a free symposium on classical bagpiping from the late-medieval period by Jack Taylor from Aberdeen, Scotland. That talk at the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center in Oakland is for “serious bagpipers,” Balderose says.

It’s the concert by the Battlefield Band that might draw the most attention from lovers of pipes and Celtic music.

The group’s name suggests aggressive music, perhaps of Jacobite warriors seeking to expel the English from their land. Actually, Battlefield is simply the name of the neighborhood near Glasgow where the band was formed.

“The name sort of stuck,” White says. “Since the band was a folk band, there were any number of suggestions for names, but none seemed to work out.”

The band plays old and new Scottish folk, as opposed to the military sound often connected with the bands that make their livelihood with “Scotland the Brave” and other such tunes.

“At this time, the music of the band is at an all-time political low,” White says.

But, he admits, there always is an element of national pride in folk music because its performers obviously are expressing a fascination with a heritage. Sometimes, simply by being sung, a song states a message. “Context is everything,” he says.

On this trip to the States, the band is made up of White, piper Mike Katz and guitarists Sean O’Donnell and Mike Vass. All of them double on other instruments, giving the band a full sound.

Vass is not a regular member of the band, but his presence is part of an attempt to maintain a freshness in the music.

“We have so many good musicians in our country, we thought we could use some of them sometimes to celebrate that richness,” White says.

Bob Karlovits is staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7852.

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