If you wish to go, here's what you need to know about the time-honored Scottish custom and decorum of the Tartan Ball in Puyallup on March 23rd.
Who wears a tartan to a ball? That was the question I asked a Scottish American bag piper, Jack Montgomery of Gig Harbor. He would know the answer. Montgomery has been wearing tartans most of his life. Nearly every year since he was a teen, he has helped organize the annual tartan ball sponsored by Tacoma’s Clan Gordon Pipe Band.
And so I asked. Who and why would any group of people name a social event like a grand ball after a 5-foot long bolt of cloth known as a tartan?
“When Scots and their descendents living in North America celebrate their heritage at their annual Tartan Ball, it honors the ancestral dress of their Scottish homeland,” replied Montgomery.
Thus, the 50th Annual Tartan Ball hosted by the pipe band taking place at 7:30 p.m. on March 23rd at the Puyallup Fairground Pavilion in Puyallup, Washington is a really big deal. “Our Tartan Ball is a fund raiser for the band, and helps us buy the costly band uniforms. Our original band played at the Clan Maclay Tartan Ball in Portland, Oregon more than fifty years ago, before our band decided to have one for ourselves.”
Proudly wearing the official plaid of Clan Gordon of Scotland will be the Scottish dancers, the pipe band and drummers, Scots and their descendents, their spouses, in-laws, friends and all fans of the history, traditions and culture of the Scottish Highlands. And, with robust and romantic music, they will dance the night away.
Semi-formal Attire the Norm
What would one not of Scottish ancestry usually wear to a Tartan Ball, I wondered. “We encourage Scottish dress or any semi-formal attire and all are welcome,” says Montgomery, the band’s secretary. Any one can wear the tartan plaid of any clan to the Ball as some often do, some with little Scottish ancestry, and some with none at all.
The Clan Gordon tartan is a kilt made of green squares separated with a gold stripe. In the center of the green square is a blend of dark blue and black. The dressy Clan Gordon tartan has a white band around the green squares.
Many books show registered tartans. There are tartans for clans as well as cities and states in the USA. Montgomery’s roots go back to the Scottish homeland.
“My father John Montgomery was born in Glasgow, Scotland and learned to play the pipes in the Boys Brigade,” says Montgomery. His father immigrated to the USA when he was 16 years old. He met Montgomery’s mother, Elizabeth Braidwood, who had immigrated at age three with her parents from Bonnyrigg, Scotland. As young adults the two Scots met at Tacoma’s Scottish Lodge of Clan Gordon #188 that had been established in 1909. They were married in 1936.
Tacoma’s First Pipe Band
The wearing of the tartan itself has great significance in Scotland. In the 1700s the British organized military regiments comprised of different clans. Each had it own colors of kilts called tartans. And to this day there remains a military regiment that wears the Gordon Tartan. So, the pipe bands wear the same tartan as the regiment that defends their people.
The Gordon Clan controlled property in the North East part of Scotland. However, learning more about the history of all clans is far from simplistic, so checking out the web pages at House of Gordon USA is good start. Or, attending the Tartan Ball, you can ask the Scots themselves. But, here in the USA, the Scottish started a new history.
In 1955 the Tacoma lodge decided to sponsor a Bag Pipe Band. Several fund raisers were organized with the help from the ladies’ “Bonny Doon Lodge, Daughters of Scotia.” Interested members were assembled to start learning the pipes. John Montgomery was assigned the duties of Pipe Major and taught the original group. When funds were available uniforms were measured and ordered.
The band played several times at lodge meetings until the uniforms arrived from Scotland. The band’s first public performance was the grand opening of Manley’s Market in Fircrest, Washington, in 1957. That same year the band played for the first time in the Puyallup Valley Daffodil Parade. The band has marched in the parade every year since and performs in many public and official events throughout the year.
When was the first Tartan Ball?
John Montgomery organized the first Tartan Ball in the Puget Sound area in 1972. Jack was 15 years old when he joined his father’s pipe band as a drummer, and he has attended every Ball since then.
“Each year the Clan Gordon Pipe Band would plan a new program and practice for the Ball for several months. It has been a good fund raiser over the years. Clan Maclay has its Ball in November; and we always have our Tartan Ball in the spring,” says Jack Montgomery who eventually became a piper himself, and the Pipe Major from 1973-1991.
Montgomery’s dad passed away in 1994 and his mom in 1997 but their legacy lives on at the 50th Annual Tartan Ball that truly honors the remarkable Scottish tradition and history.
To get more info about this event go to Clan Gordon Pipe Band website.