‘Pandemic Piper’ performances bring joy, Scottish culture to Montreal during COVID-19

A Montreal father-son duo are doing their part to brighten things up during COVID-19, using some cameras, the element of surprise, and most importantly, bagpipes.

The Pandemic Piper is the brainchild of Ian and Angus Aitken. They film videos of Montreal bagpipers playing in a different, special location, and post a new edition online each week. 

“This is a project launched by the St. Andrew’s Society to try to do something positive during what’s really a difficult time for many people,” explained Ian Aitken, a former president of the St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal.

On Thursday, 19-year-old piper Nolan Patrick Cunningham performed at the Montreal Fine Arts Museum on Sherbrooke, as the father and son carefully filmed every moment. The piper performed both inside and outside the museum, to the delight of many passers-by.

“What a wonderful surprise to get off the bus and to hear the sound of the bagpipes. Oh my God, it just warms my heart,” said Michel Cliff, who happened upon the performance as he was heading to work.

With the Highland Games and other summer events usually put on by Montreal’s Scottish community scrapped due to the pandemic, the Aitken boys couldn’t bear to just sit at home. They came up with the idea of releasing a video of a piper playing at a different Montreal location each week.

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“This is the thirteenth one that we have filmed. We’ve issued five. One comes out every Wednesday,” Ian Aitken, the father, explained.

So far they’ve filmed pipers at Mount Royal Cemetery, the Old Port, the Robert Burns memorial, the Trudeau Airport and more.

“We filmed at the Dorval Airport, on the roof of the airport, and on the tarmac. It was spectacular,” Ian said.

Angus, the son, mans the drone camera.

“You’ve got some very nice angles of the city that you don’t usually get,” Angus said.

Cunningham says he appreciated the opportunity to don his kilt and put smiles on peoples’ faces.  COVID-19 has been a tough time for pipers.

“I just think it’s a lot of fun. I mean, during the pandemic, especially a lot of us pipers, we don’t have as many jobs to do,” he said.

With provincial safety measures still in place, the crew has to be careful not to draw a crowd.

“We’ve had to promise the places where we filmed that if we do gather a crowd, that we will stop filming immediately,” said Ian Aitken.

That means you’ll have to be lucky to catch one of the Pandemic Piper performances in person, but you can watch them all on the St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal website.

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