Cristiano Bicudo has spent more than three decades pioneering the instrument in his home country
BRAZIL conjures up images of sambas and carnivals rather than strathspeys and crunluaths – but the piping scene there is growing thanks to the dedication and hard work of Cristiano Bicudo. However, it has not been an easy task to establish the Highland pipes in a country so far from Scotland.
The pipes are not traditional in Brazilian music and the first pipers to arrive were likely Portuguese when Brazil was first discovered in 1500. The Highland pipes may have arrived at some point in the 1800s, after Brazil declared its independence in 1822.
Britain became an ally and trading partner and by the early 20th century, many British firms were increasing their investments in Brazil and with a growing number of Scots working in the country, two St Andrew Societies were founded – one in Rio de Janeiro in 1906, with São Paulo following in 1924.
Records from the São Paulo group show pipers who were native Scots played to entertain the members but over the decades the numbers dwindled and they ceased their musical activities. In the late 70s and most of the 80s, piping at the St Andrew Society of São Paulo was entirely provided by pipers from the British Caledonian Airways band flown in from the UK for events.
In a separate development, the Brazilian Navy got hold of a large number of sets of Highland pipes in 1951 and wanted their existing marine band in Rio de Janeiro to use them.
It’s not clear where the pipes came from – perhaps a gift from the Royal Navy – but they remained untouched for years as no one knew how to play them.
In the end, the Brazilian marine band musicians taught themselves, probably borrowing technique from other woodwind instruments. This improvised form of playing remained in the band for decades and while it probably met their conductor’s requirements, it wasn’t the standard technique.
Nevertheless, the marine band, Banda Marcial do Corpo de Fuzileiros Navais (CFN), had an impact on the community of Brazilian civilian martial bands. In the 60s and 70s, there are reports of “Scottish bands” popping up in the south and south-east of Brazil, in the national league of fanfares and martial bands.
There are records of at least five such bands: Banda do Colégio Coração de Maria from Santos, Banda Coração de Maria from Santa Maria, Banda Escocesa do Colégio São Carlos from Caxias do Sul, Banda Marcial Wolney Aguiar (BMWA), based in Petrópolis, and Dragões Iguaçuanos, from Nova Iguaçu.
The first three in this list were made up of girls only but they were all bands who had adopted Highland outfits and a Scottish theme. For the most part, they were only carrying sets of pipes or playing simple marches.
One of these bands, BMWA, went a bit further. They initially played Galician pipes, but in the late 60s they acquired sets of Highland pipes and got instruction from navy pipers in Rio.
They adopted the same improvised technique created by the Brazilian navy band but attempted to play more Scottish tunes and in a more authentic way. The lack of instructors was a major obstacle for their musical evolution but it didn’t stop them from becoming famous in Petrópolis for their “large” pipe corps of 10 pipers.
They were the most successful civilian band to play the pipes in Brazil for many years and thanks to their work, piping established a firm root in that town.
The Brazilian military not only get the credit for introducing the Highland pipes to the Brazilian music scene in the 50s (the Navy band), they are also responsible for the latest addition of bands that play Highland pipes in Brazil. In 2017, the Brazilian Army created the Banda Marcial do Exército Brasileiro, which currently includes a 10 strong pipe corps. This initiative is not the Brazilian Army’s first experience with Highland pipes. The Brigada de Infantaria Para-quedista (army paratrooper brigade) had a few pipers from the late 1980s up until 2002. And as from 2008, another group of pipers, this time under the inspired leadership of warrant officer Gileno, got started in the military band of Brazil’s most prestigious and traditional infantry unit, the Batalhão da Guarda Presidencial (BGP), which performs presidential guard and state ceremonial duties. The BGP pipers were incorporated in 2017 by Banda Marcial do Exército Brasileiro, which now represents the whole Army and is also the first one to officially offer a career for pipers in the Brazilian armed forces. The newly created career is great news, and as such it is expected to give further incentive to the ever growing Highland piping community in Brazil.
Cristiano’s interest in the pipes started in 1982, when he was 14. While many teens long to learn an instrument to play in a rock band, his attention was grabbed by the pipes.
In a record shop in São Paulo, he spotted an LP made by Capitol International Series, called Scottish Pipes!, including tracks with solos by Donald Shaw Ramsay.
Cristiano explained: “Donald Shaw Ramsay’s solos, and in particular his Sean Truibhais, left such an impression on me that I was soon pressing my parents to let me learn the pipes. Both mum and dad were supportive but I would soon discover that learning the pipes would not be easy because of the lack of local instructors and sets of pipes.
“My interest started to decline but that year British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band visited São Paulo and played a few blocks from where I lived. I did not actually get to see them, because I had exams at school at the same time. That was heartbreaking for me, but in a way it hardened my determination to learn the pipes.”
The following year he found a Brazilian bagpipe enthusiast, Michel Nahas, who was willing to give him lessons. Michel also put Cristiano in touch with John Martin, a piper who visited with the B-Cal band a year before and who returned to São Paulo each year to play for the St. Andrew Society.
John had become a mentor for Michel and for a handful of Brazilian bagpipe enthusiasts who had gathered to see the B-Cal band in 1982.
Through John, Cristiano got his first set of pipes in 1984 (D. Naill) plus an RSPBA manual and a practice chanter. He also invited Cristiano and his brother Marcos to visit the UK and stay for a month in his family home in Ashford, Kent, the following year.
Cristiano explained: “From there, he took us to Scotland and showed us all we wanted to know about piping and pipe bands.
“John made a tremendous effort to properly introduce us to the Scottish piping and drumming universe. He gave us recordings of some top pipe bands, he supplied us with pipe band publications and books, he took us to B-Cal’s band practices in Gatwick airport, to regimental museums in Edinburgh, indoor competitions in Glasgow. He also took us to the College of Piping in Glasgow, which he recommended as the place for me and Marcos to get started on the pipes and drums. All that was overwhelming for two boys from Brazil.”
The brothers returned to the UK in early 1986 for two months of intensive lessons at the College of Piping during the school holiday.
Cristiano explained: “We became the first Brazilians to have formal piping and drumming instruction in Scotland. My instructor for the most part was Eddie MacLellan, but I also had a few lessons from Seumas MacNeill and one lesson with Thomas Pearston.
“Eddie was a great instructor, very patient and supportive. Despite his age, his fingers moved beautifully on the chanter, and seeing that made me understand that a lot of work was needed on the chanter before even touching the pipes.
“Seumas in his turn, usually wrapped up his lessons with attractive historical notes. My brother’s instructor was drumming legend Alex Duthart.
“We had another similar round of intensive lessons in early 1987. Sadly, Alex Duthart had passed away but Seumas got Alex’s bandmate Robert Barr for my brother’s drumming lessons.”
Moving on to university, with the demands of their study, they were unable to return to Scotland to learn from their musical masters for a period. But their blossoming skills on the pipes and drums meant their musical talents were in demand in Brazil.
Cristiano said: “After our intensive lessons in Scotland, my brother and myself had more piping and drumming knowledge and skills than any of the São Paulo bagpipe enthusiasts. This made me almost immediately the piper to the St Andrew Societies of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, who had relied in previous years on expatriate Scots on temporary assignments in Brazil and B-Cal pipers flown from the UK to play at their events.
“The St Andrew Society of Rio de Janeiro was so ‘piper-thirsty’ by the time I started playing there that my performance brought some members to tears in my first gigs, and I was quickly awarded honorary membership. British consulate and embassy events also kept me busy.
“The funny thing is that I never advertised anywhere that I was playing the pipes. I simply practised and played at home and doing this on a regular basis may have annoyed the neighbours but it let the entire city of São Paulo know where to find a piper! Soon our phone started ringing with invitations to play everywhere – from whisky promotions to weddings and beyond.”
Having had top-quality tuition in Scotland, Cristiano and Marcos were in a much better position than anyone else to train beginners and form a band. Cristiano began piping lessons in São Paulo and visited Petrópolis – home of the BMWA – in 1987 in search of piping enthusiasts.
The band there were basically a school band who had acquired sets of Highland pipes and played them with brass instruments.
Cristiano said: “They never had any formal piping instruction and had never seen a practice chanter, but were actually playing better than most of the São Paulo bagpipe enthusiasts.
“Their scale and gracenotes were very much improvised and their ability to properly tune up the instrument and read music was almost non-existent. It made my appearance very striking for their pipers, because I could play many more tunes and in a more elaborate way they had never witnessed.
“Gradually a few of their pipers started having lessons with me, despite the six-hour drive from São Paulo and the clash with their former improvised technique. These Petrópolis piping students and my São Paulo pupils would form the basis of a future band.”
In 1992, Cristiano decided it would be beneficial to give some of his students the intensive tuition he had received in Scotland. He got support from British Airways for flights and local subsidiaries of J P Coats and Ballantine’s whisky helped with other expenses. This allowed Cristiano, two other pipers plus two dancers to visit Scotland for two months of instruction.
The pipers had lessons with Eddie MacLellan, Angus MacDonald and Angus MacLellan (formerly of Strathclyde Police), and the dancers had instruction from Betty Brandon in Edinburgh. The group of five then returned to Brazil with improved skills, a busy schedule of presentations to return the support that had been given to them, plus a new name – Scottish Link Group. Three years later Marcos finished his studies and was available to play again. With a few more pupils from São Paulo and Petrópolis, they were able to form a mini band.
Cristiano explained: “The Scottish Link Pipe Band (SLPB) came into being in July 1995, with five pipers and four drummers at a festival held in the mountain resort of Campos do Jordão, in the state of São Paulo. The place and occasion had been carefully selected to attract powerful sponsors that would ensure support and the flow of funds to our band in the following years. British Airways, Johnnie Walker Red Label and Cultura Inglesa were in our sponsorship portfolio. This plan, as well as the training programme, proved both so successful that our band doubled its size in 1996 and we started to consider traveling to Scotland to compete.”
In August 1997, the SLPB with a corps of 14 players, made their debut at the Grade 4 competition in Perth, and a week later they became the first South American band to compete at the World Championships in Glasgow Green. Cristiano said: “Competition results were understandably not good but the trip also included band workshops at the National Piping Centre, with piping instructors Roddy MacLeod, Angus MacDonald, Jim MacLean and Dougie Pincock.
“An assessment of the band was also done by Joe Noble and Iain MacLellan. The workshops made all the difference. The amount of information and precious musical advice we got in that visit to Scotland was gigantic and shaped our musical work for the next few years.
“The band would return to Scotland in 1999 for another round of National Piping Centre workshops and competitions, this time doing much better and finishing eighth out of 26 bands in an amalgamated Grade 4 contest in Bridge of Allan.
“At the Worlds, the band placed 10th out of 36 bands in Grade 4b. The band also won the RSPBA March and Discipline Shield. We celebrated with beers at Glasgow’s Drum & Monkey pub as the owner was one of our supporters and our bass drum carried their logo.”
That year was the band’s last appearance at the Campos do Jordão music festival, as drinks firm Diageo were no longer supporting these presentations. But while sponsorship was declining, their musical production was flourishing.
After returning from Scotland in 1999, Cristiano begun making pipe band arrangements for two well known Brazilian songs originally composed by Luiz Gonzaga, Asa Branca and Baião de Dois.
He explained: “The inspiration came from other bands’ successful attempts at creating contemporary bagpipe music, such as the 78ths’ Journey to Skye and Field Marshal Montgomery’s Steam Train to Mallaig. I wanted more or less the same rhythmic effect and climax, so while I borrowed some of the main parts of Gonzaga’s original compositions, new parts had to be composed to reach the desired effect. The final musical result with added harmonies and drums was great and the set naturally became our showstopper.”
In 2000, in cooperation with the St Andrew Society of Rio de Janeiro, the SLPB played in the first South American Highland Games, held in Barra, Rio de Janeiro, and almost entirely funded by St Andrews Rio president James Frew. Some guests from other South American countries, as well as another band with pipes turned up, the latter being the band of the Brazilian Marines, who used the pipes in a similar way to BMWA.
The following years saw SLPB performing mostly at British community events in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and getting involved in the formation of South America’s first pipe band association, SPBASA, in which Cristiano represented SLPB and the interests of the whole Brazilian branch of the association.
In 2002, Cristiano stepped down as pipe major and invited Norman MacDonald, a former member of Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band who was working near São Paulo, to take over. At the same time Marcos took over the drum corps and Norman’s friend Gordon Craig offered drum instruction.
With Cristiano as pipe sergeant, the band attended three South American gatherings in successive years in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, and in 2007, the band made the trip to the Worlds but results were disappointing.
But things became difficult with a split in the ranks and when Cristiano took over again as pipe major he faced a battle to keep the band together.
He said: “I was almost too late to save the band as by the beginning of 2009 a split occurred that left us with half of our members and no sponsors at all.
“Most of the members that my brother and myself had painstakingly trained decided to leave and join a new band supported by the St Andrew Society of São Paulo. I reassured those who remained that we would continue and they gave me fantastic and unconditional support. Retired SLPB members also returned to help the band to recover. This allowed a promising new generation of pupils to be trained by myself and my brother.
“To mark our new phase, the band changed name to Brasil Caledonia but kept our Cunningham tartan kilts.”
The band competed in the new South American Pipe Band competition in 2010 and three years later in Buenos Aires, their new generation of pipers and drummers helped win that contest, becoming Brazil’s first SPBASA Cup champion and winning the trophy for the best pipe corps.
The South American championships was their main competition objective for the next few years, as it was much more financially accessible than traveling to compete in the UK.
In 2015, Brasil Caledonia were hosts to the first pipe band gathering on Brazilian soil in São Paulo. Adjudicators were Roddy MacLeod, Jamie Troy and David Wilton.
In preparation for this event, and to help other bands get involved, Cristiano organised Rio Piping Hot. This event, held in Petrópolis in March 2015, had Ken Eller as the illustrious guest.
As a result, two civilian bands from Rio (Wolney Highlanders and Brazilian Piper), plus the Brazilian Marine band from Rio and the band of the Presidential Guard Battalion from Brasilia, all with pipe corps, took park in the Brazil gathering in 2015, which had a record of 11 bands coming from Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Other bands from the State of São Paulo that participated in same gathering were St Andrew Society of São Paulo Pipes and Drums, and SP Scots, both having in their ranks former members and pupils of SLPB.
Brasil Caledonia finished third overall, winning first prize in the medley contest and retaining the shield for best pipe corps.
The Brazil gathering also helped connect with the civilian bands in Rio, who were working with impoverished “favela” communities to keep boys away from drug and crime.
Ken Eller returned to Petrópolis in October last year for Rio Piping Hot 2. Also year, Brasil Caledonia placed second in South American Pipe Band gathering held in Santiago, Chile, with a first in the march medley contest.
Cristiano said: “This gathering had a very special meaning to me as both a solo piping and a solo drumming competition was held for the first time in SPBASA gatherings. Our players kept the band’s tradition of getting the best results for Brazil in all competitions both band and solos, and all the prizes of the solo piping contest went to Brasil Caledonia, with myself finishing third and my former pupils and now band mates Carlos Miranda and Nicholas Reis finishing first and second respectively.”
Cristiano and Marcos have made a massive difference to the piping and pipe band scene in Brazil.
They brought the standard technique they learned in Scotland and passed on their skills to more than 120 learners.
They also changed the way bands in Brazil used the Highland pipes and drums, bringing them closer to the standard style, as well as bringing piping and drumming experts from the UK and Canada to local workshops.
Cristiano added: “After 31 years on the road since I started on the pipes, these are just some of our achievements.
“We also started Brazil’s first authentic pipe band in terms of a competition oriented band, which has been a key factor in the evolution of Brazil’s pipe band community. In this community, first through SLPB and now Brasil Caledonia, we continue to play a leading musical role, not just with our competition record but also the training programme designed by Marcos and myself.”