Every January, Scots the world over celebrate the birthday of their national poet, Robert Burns, with gatherings called Burns Suppers. Some are humble affairs in the parlors of expatriates, where a dram or two of whisky is quaffed around the fireplace while guests take turns reading stanzas of "Tam O'Shanter," "Highland Mary" and "To a Mouse."
Others, such as the Macdonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh, mark the occasion in grand pageantry and style. The band will host its annual Burns Supper Saturday, Jan. 18, at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church Hall in Mount Lebanon, Pa., south of Pittsburgh. Doors open at 5 p.m.; dinner is at 6 p.m.
A spoken tribute to the prolific 18th-century poet and songwriter will be presented by Isabel Harrar, a Scottish-born author who lives in Wheeling. The evening includes the piping in of the haggis followed by the recitation of Burns' "To a Haggis" in the Scots dialect, a Scottish repast featuring steak pie and haggis, and performances by the Macdonald Pipe Band, along with Highland dancers and traditional musicians. The band fundraiser includes a Scotch whisky basket raffle and a 50/50. Per tradition, the evening ends with the crowd forming a giant circle and singing Burns' most famous song "Auld Lang Syne," with pipes and drums accompanying.
The Macdonald Pipe Band is pictured after winning first place at the 2012 Ligonier Highland Games at Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa.
"Burns Suppers are held throughout the world by people who want to pay tribute to Scottish heritage and bring a measure of cheer to the post-holiday, dreary days of January," said band manager and pipe sergeant Betsy Bethel-McFarland. "The Macdonald Pipe Band has held its traditional Burns Supper for several decades, and we welcome people from all cultural backgrounds to come and get a taste of Scotland." She added that the band's event is one of the less pricey Burns Suppers held in the region.
Also performing at the event will be the Celtic Spirit Highland Dancers, a well established troupe under the direction of Kathy Horvath that performs a variety of dances including the Highland fling and the sword dance.
The pipe band is led by Pipe Major Hernan "Bud" Brizuela of Penn Hills and Drum Sergeant Jim Bennington of Aspinwall. Instructors are Carnegie Mellon University piping program graduate Nick Hudson of Pittsburgh; snare drumming instructor Miles Bennington, a Slippery Rock University student; and tenor drumming instructor Alli McLeod of Pittsburgh.
The Macdonald Pipe Band is a nonprofit charitable organization that performs throughout the tri-state region and holds practices at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Bethel Park, Pa. The band, made up of pipers and drummers, performs at parades, festivals and Highland games competitions throughout the year. The band has held the title of Ohio Valley branch champion in the Eastern U.S. Pipe Band Association for two years running and has won several first prizes in recent years, including best drum corps at the Georgetown, Ontario, Highland Games and first place at the Ligonier Highland Games in 2012.
The band plays annually at the St. Patrick's Day and Labor Day parades in downtown Pittsburgh, the Wheeling Celtic Celebration, the Follansbee Community Days parade, Fort Henry Days in Wheeling and the CHANGE Inc. St. Patrick's Day fundraiser at Mountaineer Racetrack, in addition to other events. This year, the band was honored to be invited to perform during Pittsburgh's Light-Up Night celebration downtown on Nov. 22.
The band also is the featured pipe band at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh's Burns Supper that will take place on Jan. 25.
Anyone interested in attending the Macdonald dinner can visit www.macdonaldpipeband.net to purchase tickets online or download an order form to purchase by mail. The deadline to purchase is Jan. 10. For information, call 412-835-3997. The band also can be found on Facebook at Macdonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh.