If you’re in a pipe band, you either play pipes or drums. Our pipers, as in most pipe bands, play the Great Highland Bagpipe. Drummers complement the sound of the pipes by emphasizing the phrasing, keeping the tempo, and supplying dynamics for the ensemble, because pipes have only one volume--“full.” The characteristic crisp sound of the snare drums (we call them “side” drums) is supported by the bass section: a bass drummer and several tenor drummers. Tenors round out the sound of the section, often playing drums at tuned to different pitches, and add visual interest by flourishing their mallets between beats.
Young students are as welcome as anyone; we’ve had people play with the band before they were teenagers. Two of our long-term pipers started with the band when they were 12; our leading drummer started taking Highland drumming lessons when he was 4! Okay, that’s kind of young, and he went in and out of that, but has been playing in our drum corps since he was 10!
What it takes to play in a pipe band
If you’re just starting out, this can take a while. If you want to play pipes, you’re looking at a multi-year time investment: playing pipes is not difficult, but it is complex. Musical experience of any kind helps. One exceptionally talented adult (a professional musician) made it into the pipe corps in a year and a half, and talented young musicians often achieve that kind of progress as well. Most learning as adults will take longer, but it all depends on motivation. Drummers come along more quickly: Highland drumming is extremely difficult, but it’s not complex!
Learning drummers will practice technique and learn tunes playing on a practice pad, and drums are provided by the band.
Beginning pipers play a small, recorder-like instrument called a practice chanter. Once they are able to play a number of tunes with the proper technique, it will be time to start thinking about the pipes. For most students that is a year or more down the line. When it is time to find pipes, students should work with their instructor to find a set of pipes. In almost no case would it be wise to buy a set of pipes, new or used, without having played them, or at least knowing something about them. Pipes are going to cost somewhere around $1000 minimum, though sometimes we have been able to find used sets for our students that were great deals. Beware of some sites that offer new sets of pipes for significantly less than this: in our experience these have, unfortunately, turned out to be unplayable. Purchase these if you want to put a set of pipes on the wall—you would never do that with a set of pipes that you need to play, anyway.
For practice chanters, good brands are McCallum, Naill, and Tru-tone, to name a few. They are available in two sizes; except for young players, we always recommend purchasing the long ones, as these are the same length as the pipe chanter (the part of the pipes you play the melody on). You can find them on many Web sites selling Scottish stuff, but if you can stick to a bagpipe and pipe band supplier, you’re better off.
The regional group conducts monthly practices September-November and January-March. Competition season practices are also held, but are conducted around the band’s competition schedule, so have not been set as yet. Smaller-group practices are also conducted in Portland, Spokane, and Missoula, with the pipe major and leading drummer traveling monthly during the practice season. If you’re interested in playing with us, or just watching, contact the pipe major: firstname.lastname@example.org or leading drummer: email@example.com. More information on our Facebook page or ask to join our Facebook group by contacting us: firstname.lastname@example.org . Our music is available on the Member page in the form of downloadable PDF’s. If you’re interested in playing, you’ll need to get member access, also by requesting it from the webmaster.