SUMMERSIDE — There’s a feeling of excitement in the air at the College of Piping.
It’s busy and hectic at the College these days, with rehearsals in full swing and the sounds of Celtic music — mostly from bagpipes and drums — filling almost every nook and cranny of the unique Summerside Celtic performing arts school.
The College’s staff, instructors and students are gearing up for what is going to be the busiest summer on record.
This year, the College of Piping marks a significant milestone — its 25th anniversary.
“It’s an exciting summer,” said executive director Karen Hatcher, as she sits down for what is a rare break these days. “This is my fifth summer here. The energy is at a peak. Everybody is so excited and engaged.”
She beams as she talks about what’s on tap this summer, beginning with this weekend’s Highland Gathering, the launch of new CD, the opening of a completely revamped “Highland Storm” and, later this summer, a momentous trip to Scotland where, for the first time in its history, the College will have two bands competing at the World Pipe Band Championships.
“At 25 years, we are continuing to grow. We are a work in progress,” Hatcher, a piper herself, added. “We have the strongest team in place, I believe, that the College has ever had for consistency and continuity. In September, when we start our teaching year, for the fourth year in a row, we are going to have the same team of instructors, which is also history making for the organization.”
Former students of the College, from as far away as Ontario, are making the pilgrimage to the city for this weekend’s gathering, aptly dubbed the Homecoming.
“We have spent two years establishing as big a big database so we could reach as many students that we could that have been involved in the College the past 25 years,” added Hatcher. “Friday night we will have an alumni reception in the beer tent to start the evening before ‘Highland Storm’.”
And for those pipers, drummers and dancers who may be a bit rusty, workshops are on offer earlier in the so that, over the weekend, they can join the College’s bands.
It’s a full day of step dance competitions on tap Friday, followed by a preview performance of “Highland Storm” before a sold-out crowd. After that, the party continues as the Ellis Family Band takes the stage.
Saturday is the official opening at noon and the launch of the College’s latest CD, “At Long Last.” That evening, there’s the Celtic Idol competition followed by music from Kevin Arthur and the Jacktar Band and the evening’s headliners, Rawlins Cross.
Saturday and Sunday will be filled with solo piping and drumming competitions, along with pipe band competitions, with closing ceremonies and awards presentations Sunday evening.
But there will be little time to rest, as Monday evening marks the opening of “Highland Storm.”
“It is a brand new show,” said Hatcher, noting that Ryan MacNeil, of Barra MacNeils’ fame, returns for a third consecutive year as the show’s artistic director with choreography by highland dance instructor, Kearsney Smith, and step dance instructor, Chelsey Sanderson.
There’s a new soloist, high school student Emma Doucette, new numbers, costumes and music, including a Celtic version of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and music from Canadian folk legend, Joni Mitchell.
And, adds Hatcher, “You never know if Michael Jackson will appear in a tune or two.”
The show runs Mondays through Thursdays throughout July and Monday through Wednesday for the first week of August. The last of 24 performances is Aug. 6.
Then, on Aug. 7, a group of 77 performers and supporters leave for Scotland and the World Pipe Band Championships.
For the first time in history the College is sending two pipe bands.
“If it is going to happen, 2014 is our year,” said Hatcher, adding piping instructors, husband and wife duo James and Kylie McHattie have been working hard to have the bands more than ready for competition.
The College currently supports three competitive pipe bands, also a first, and is adding a fourth in the fall — a developmental band that allows students transitioning to their instruments the chance to get a taste of what its like being part of a competition band.
Classes are being offered via Skype for a second year, with 14 students from across the world.
And, added Hatcher, the College’s dance company is the strongest it has ever been.
As for the next 25 years, the plan is to continue the College’s growth.
“It’s an exciting time.”
For a full schedule of events, visit collegeofpiping.com.