04/09/2012 05:19 EDT | Updated 06/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Bagpipes, Bongos Banned For Buskers In Vancouver


New rules quietly introduced through Vancouver's city hall ban bagpipes, bongos and other percussion instruments from the city's street busking program.

After receiving complaints about noise levels, the city's street performance permits program began refusing applications for acts that included drums, bongos, tambourines, and bagpipes.

James McNair, a competitor in the BC Pipers' Association's 80th annual bagpiping competition on Saturday, was among many who were shocked to learn of the ban.

"That would be a cruel idea... [for] the citizens of Vancouver not to be able to hear the glorious bagpipe," he said.

Simon Fraser University's award-winning pipe band is playing a 30th-anniversary concert at the Vogue Theatre on Sunday, but the pipers might not be welcome to warm-up outside if they passed a hat during the performance.

The city's street performance, or busking, permit information page was amended sometime over the past year to include the rule, which reads: "Instruments not permitted for street performance: percussive instruments and bagpipes."

BC Pipers' Association president Rob MacNeil said it goes against the grain of the city itself.

"This [area] has the highest concentration of world-calibre players and pipe bands outside of Scotland," he said.

Scottish culture is entrenched in the city's history, which became a magnet for Scottish immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Descendants of many of those Scots have stuck around and the culture has stayed with them, bagpipes and all.

"That's what makes Vancouver such a vibrant city, being able to display the best of culture that we have in this area. And bagpipes and piping and drumming are top of the mind on this," MacNeil said.

The city said the rules are there because music, no matter how good, can be disruptive.

MacNeil said the BC Pipers' Associations understands and agrees permits should be handed out in a way that's respectful to listeners and local businesses. But to ban an instrument outright is not acceptable.

"I think it's not an informed decision," he said.

Mayor Gegor Robertson — a proud descendant of Scots himself — was away over the weekend but he and his city staff have said they will be reviewing the policy.