The 2023 New Zealand Pipe Band Championships

The skirl of the pipes and drums was heard far and wide in Ōtautahi Christchurch as the 2023 New Zealand and South Pacific Pipe Band Championships returned to the South Island of New Zealand for the first time since 2020. ‘The Nationals’ had to be postponed in 2022 due to the pandemic – Auckland was to play host, so it was fitting New Zealand’s second largest city was the destination for the first championship back in two years. 

It is the largest pipe band competition in the Southern Hemisphere, with 50 pipe bands from across New Zealand and Australia competing over two days from Juvenile and Grade 4B through to the Grade 1 competition. Unique to New Zealand, the bands performed in a judged (but not part of the aggregate championship) Street March along some of the picturesque streets of Christchurch.   Judges came from far and wide across Australasia, with Ian Lyons, Harold Gillespie and Andrew Wormersley coming across from Melbourne to assist Greg Wilson, Stuart Easton, Liam Kernaghan, Ross Levy, and Ian Ferguson judging the music events.  

Drawing on the line

Day One saw competition in the Grade 4B, Grade 4A and Grade 3 March, Strathspey and Reel event, the Juvenile event, and the aforementioned Street March. St. Andrew’s College from Christchurch took the event with straight first places from the judges, besting current Australian champions Scotch College Pipe Band from Melbourne. The ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band – the defending Juvenile champions – had to settle for fourth this year. A total of eight bands competed in the Juvenile event, a sign of good things happening at the grassroots level across the South Pacific.  The Street March was the first opportunity to hear the Grade 2 and Grade 1 bands ‘strut their stuff’.

It was evident right from the get-go that all the bands had really raised their game this year. Inspiring stuff for a lot of the younger pipers and drummers who lined the streets to get their first taste of the best in the business. Auckland & District Pipe Band took out the Grade 1 Street March, with Melbourne-based Hawthorn Pipe Band winning the Grade 2 Street March with some dazzling hornpipes.   Day Two was a much busier affair, with the Grade 4B, Grade 4A and Grade 3 bands performing their melodies while the Grade 2 and Grade 1 bands played both their March, Strathspey and Reel and Medley events. In New Zealand, each band plays in both events for the championship, with Grade 2 and Grade 1 bands ‘drawing on the line’ their March, Strathspey and Reel.  

The top guns

Grade 4B was ultimately won by South Canterbury Pipe Band, with a ten point lead ahead of ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band. Grade 4A saw Scotch College Pipe Band from Melbourne edge out Hamilton Caledonian Society Pipe Band by one point, with St. Andrew’s College B Pipe Band finishing third. Grade 3 was taken out by the City of Tauranga Pipe Band with wins in both the March, Strathspey and Reel and Medley events.  Then it was time for the top guns. Grade 2 was five-strong and full of confidence, music and pizzazz. Hawthorn Pipe Band from Melbourne took straight firsts across all eight judges in the two events, with St. Andrew’s College A Pipe Band settling for second.

Hawthorn dazzled the crowds with their Medley in particular, which finished with Mark Saul’s classic The Stonecutter’s Phoenix.  Pushing 30 degrees celsius, Auckland & District Pipe Band began the March, Strathspey and Reel. All five Grade One bands were world-class, and presented a huge challenge for all the music judge to split out into different prizes. Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band took straight firsts from the four piping judges, but it wasn’t to be enough as the Canterbury Caledonian Society Pipe Band – hometown favourites – taking all the drumming and ensemble firsts, and winning both events, securing them the overall title. Manawatu was second, with Auckland & District Pipe Band third. All of the judges commented that it was the highest standard of Grade One performance in New Zealand ever. 

The event was livestreamed via Youtube thanks to Brassbanned – the same people who livestream major sporting events like the Australian Open. The livestream is available on Youtube, and Grade One and Two performances are split out for ease. 

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