Just a week before the Canmore Highland Games, drumming judge and internationally recognized musician Blair Brown was forced to make an impossible choice between his commitments to the event’s musicians, or his home.
With Hurricane Harvey menacing on the Gulf Coast, Brown, a resident of Houston, stuck to his commitment to the games despite the threat posed by the impending category four storm.
“I rearranged everything almost specifically so I could judge, because I had committed to it and really wanted to do it,” he said.
Brown immediately changed his flight plans, and made it to Canmore after a brief stay with friends in Vancouver.
“With the hurricane and the storm coming, I phoned United and said ‘hey can you get me out?’ and they said ‘you can go tomorrow morning,’ ” said Brown.
Meanwhile, Harvey became the first hurricane since 2005 to make landfall in the continental United States, dumping nearly 72 trillion litres of water on Texas.
Houston received 795 millimetres of rain. By comparison, Canmore received 200 mm during the 2013 flood.
The storm ended up costing Brown dearly. It destroyed his home and all of his possessions.
“We did try and rearrange the house before I left, but when you get three and a half to four feet of water in the house, throughout the entire house, there is some stuff that just can’t be saved.”
Fortunately, Brown’s twin brother Graham, also a musician, was able to evacuate from their shared home with Brown’s dog and make it to higher ground.
Being at the Canmore games knowing that his neighbours weren’t all safe was bittersweet.
“My feelings are split. I’m just trying to enjoy the judging experience and I’ve never been to Canmore and it’s beautiful, but there is a part of me that just keeps thinking, ‘I should be back down in Houston,’ ” he said.
“I’m thinking about friends, thinking about family.”
Originally from Toronto, Brown was born into a musically gifted family.
His mother Gail Brown is an internationally known bagpiper and three-time winner of the World Pipe Band Championships.
Brown fulfilled a lifelong dream in 2001 by moving to Scotland to join the top-tier Shotts and Dykehead pipe band and winning World Drum Corps awards in 2003 and 2005.
In Houston, he became drumming director for the St. Thomas’ Episcopal School’s pipe and drum band as part of the school’s Scottish studies.
All through the decades of playing drums across Canada, the U.S. and in Scotland, Brown kept a box with every single drumstick he had ever used.
Thanks to the flooding, that box is gone.
“It’s devastating as a sentimental thing, but I’m trying not to think about it.”
Instead, his focus was on helping the musicians compete and judging their performances.
“Certainly, you know when you have a band in front of you or you have a solo competitor in front of you, you’re just trying to enjoy it, offer some constructive criticism and, of course, to rank them and give placings,” he said.
“I’m just putting everything else on the back burner and focusing on the job at hand here.”
Brown returns to Houston this week.
Toronto-based musician Eric Stein and friend of the Browns started a recovery fundraiser for Blair and his brother Graham located on GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/beating-the-drum-for-graham.
For those wishing to support victims of Hurricane Harvey, or to provide support pending the landfall of Hurricane Irma, donations can be made to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-harvey.