GANDER, NL – Thirty years have gone by since Derek Bishop first learned to play the bagpipes.
It began with asking his older brother, Clarence Jr., to teach him to play.
Clarence Jr., 20 years older than Derek, had extensive experience playing bagpipes with the auxiliary Black Watch whilst working in Montreal.
Two years after learning with his brother, Bishop was transferred to Halifax and Moncton for work.
“There were five to six different bands there, and I continued on from where he left me off. I originally started with him,” Bishop said.
One of Bishop’s most memorable gig was being selected for a full-time summer job piping at the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border for the department of tourism in Amherst.
“It was a really interesting place to play,” Bishop said.
“I did not really play much,” he chuckled, “but I got plenty of pictures taken from people all over the world.”
Proud of his roots, Bishop wore his Newfoundland tartan in New Brunswick, which he found amusing.
“I don’t think many people noticed it,” Bishop whispered.
But someone from Newfoundland did.
Frank Tibbo, a resident of Gander, happened to be at the border and noticed the Newfoundland tartan. He got hold of the CBC to do a story.
“Here am I, a Newfoundlander, living in New Brunswick, playing bagpipes at the Nova Scotia tourism border,” Bishop chuckled.
Not only is Bishop proud to be a Newfoundlander, he also acted as a discrete ambassador to get tourists visiting Nova Scotia to come to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I met a lot of tourists, and I sent a lot of them to Newfoundland because most of them came to Nova Scotia – I was bad,” said Bishop.
“’Go to Newfoundland,’ I would say. ‘It’s beautiful down there.’”
Many people were enamoured by Bishop playing the bagpipes in his full costume. One tourist decided to try her luck at asking for his hand for marriage.
“Some girl came from the states and she was all excited to see the bagpipes. She said, ‘Oh my God – I want to marry you. Marry me and we will go back to the states.’ She was flipping out,” Bishop laughed.
Another couple, Bishop recalled, drove all the way from Texas just to get their picture with a bagpiper playing at the border.
Bishop is currently a band member with the city of St. John’s Pipe Band. Although the bagpipe is not a common instrument in Newfoundland, the province produces world-class talent.
“The leader of the band, the pipe major, is a grade one bagpiper – this means that he’s probably the best in the world and he was originally from Labrador. His name is Charlie O’Keefe and he competes all over the world,” said Bishop.
“Before that, the bagpipe major was a grade two bagpiper. Hard to believe that for a province that does not have many bagpipers, you got top bagpipers.”