BELLINGHAM - With luck and a dash of spit and polish, a pair of Bellingham bagpipe players will be part of a centuries-old British royal tradition this week.
Both Wayne Rogers and Carter Smith are members of the famed Vancouver Police Pipe Band, a bagpipe and drum corps that's toured the world and is renowned for its musicianship and precision drilling. On Friday, June 13, the band is scheduled to participate in Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the royal family's home in London.
They'll also be performing at Windsor Castle - Queen Elizabeth's estate in the Berkshire countryside west of London - and at Royal Chelsea Hospital, a London retirement and nursing home for British soldiers.
"I don't know if there have been any Americans who volunteered for British units that were part of it," Rogers said. "Carter and I, we might be the first Yanks to break in."
But first, the band must stand at attention for the captain of the Queen's Guard Home Division in a no-nonsense "fit for role" inspection.
"We have to have our drill and dressing up to British specifications," Rogers said. "Everything has to be perfect. The British, they still polish the backs of their buttons. I've learned to shine shoes like patent leather."
If they pass muster, the band must contend with one other factor: The event goes forward only in fair weather, and Smith noted that the climate of the British Isles is similar to that of Puget Sound.
"If it rains, they cancel the ceremony and they don't reschedule it," Smith said.
Smith, who owns Even Keel Media, a marketing and digital production service in Bellingham, said the band has been preparing for the event for more than two years. Raised in New Orleans, he studied piping at St. Andrews College in North Carolina, later moving to Vancouver, B.C., and then Bellingham.
Rogers, who is retired from the construction industry, began piping some 50 years ago - when his father saw a set of bagpipes in the window of the former Frank's Place pawnshop in downtown Bellingham.
"When I was 11 years old my daddy made me take lessons. I'm starting to appreciate it," Rogers joked.
Planning and preparation for the British trip started with talks among performers at a 2010 bagpipe festival in Switzerland. It took discussions among British and Canadian governmental officials to secure a place for the Vancouver band.
Reports in both the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. news and the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper say it will be the first time a non-military band has been part of the 350-year-old tradition. The Vancouver band will accompany the Queen's Guard, soldiers assigned to the monarchy, in a march from Wellington Barracks to Buckingham Palace and then St. James Place.
Traditionally, all members of the Vancouver band are sworn police officers. Rogers and Smith, pipers who were accepted as members four years ago, were deputized as special constables so they could be part of the group. Formed in 1914, it's the oldest nonmilitary pipe band and one of the oldest police pipe bands in the world.
"I always thought that the epitome of my piping career would be the Edinburgh Tattoo," a festival of crack military bands at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, Rogers said. "We're probably going to have a lot of firsts," he said, including a drummer who at 75 might be the oldest participant in the history of the event.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Follow the Vancouver Police Pipe Band's progress at pipeband.ca.