Peter Gallant (photo: Buzz)

Peter Gallant

Island Storm

Profile | by Jane Ledwell

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Peter Gallant apologizes. He has gotten only 90% of the paint off his hands. The artistic director and musical director for this summer’s Highland Storm performance at the College of Piping is hands-on: today, he was helping paint sets. “We’re bringing Hillsborough Bay into the audience,” he enthuses.

Late last year, Peter got “a surprising email from the board of governors of the College of Piping—write us a paragraph blurb about what you think the Highland Storm could look like.”

Peter played guitar in Highland Storm two years ago and graduated to musical director last year. (His wife Christine has played keyboards in the show for years and has graduated to lead vocalist.) Yet, Peter admits, “My blurb was reactionary, in a way. Last year’s show was very focused on real Scottish elements, from Rod Stewart to the Loch Ness Monster… but so much was from out of province.”

He says, “This year, I wanted the show to be authentic to PEI… Imagine three boats leaving northern Scotland, men and families travelling eight weeks in a boat, arriving in Hillsborough Bay in the fall. This was 1770. Nothing was cleared. They had to ask, do I move to Charlottetown, where my family might economically prosper? Or do I move to Breadalbane or St. Catherines or somewhere else more isolated, but where I could pass on the Scottish language and culture to my family?”

Now, he says, “Imagine the masters of the Celtic performing arts at your fingertips to tell this story.” He gestures to the offices of the world-renowned teachers at the College of Piping. Highland Storm, he says, “honours what they do. It celebrates the culture and uses those masters.”

“It has been a learning curve,” Peter says. “I spent 33 years as a junior-high music director, and I always said school was ‘seven shows a day.’”

Peter is retired from teaching, except teaching adults guitar, but not from learning. “To come here and learn pipes only have nine notes, and dancers only stay up in the air so long, I had to do a lot of backpedalling…

“Any woodwind or brass, any keyboard, any percussion, any stringed instrument like a guitar, I have training in arrangement.” Peter had to work hard to reach a point where he can write original compositions for the bagpipes and, even as a trained percussionist famous for year-end “drum battles” among his band students, work with Celtic drummers with an understanding of “how intricate and demanding Scottish drumming is.”

In addition to being a musical director, Peter is an in-demand audio engineer, for the Indian River Festival, the Festival of Small Halls, and Summerside live events. Behind the soundboard, he gives the audience “everything they are supposed to hear, when they are supposed to hear it, in a musical way so they don’t even notice the technology and can just enjoy the intrinsic value the artist gives them.”

Drawing out musicality is the mission. “I’m not on the front of the stage with my band,” he says, but “behind the soundboard, the music is never static for me. I’m a musician: I’m going to breathe with their music.”

Peter and his wife Christine still breathe music with their five grown children, too. Summerside’s Celtic Christmas last year “was the first time all seven of us were on the stage together for years. We at times forgot there was an audience.” He gushes about each family member’s talent and professionalism. “It’s not lost on me that I can (make music) with my family. It’s a blessing to do anything with them at any time, on stage or around the kitchen table after church.”

When Peter and Christine are in the eye of the Highland Storm this summer, he jokes, it will be “date night, four nights a week,” but a date night with a ghost narrator, singing, fiddling, piping, and drumming—and an audience from around the world, eager to see “the story of Scottish culture being born on PEI.” He says in some wonderment, “Here I am, a French-Acadian boy, running a Scottish show.”

Jane Ledwellprofile