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The Pipes are Calling

Siobhan, our Standing Committee Member, is also a wonderful piper! Get to know her a little bit better by reading her history and involvement with this Scottish Art form.

As with many folks with Scottish heritage, I grew up attending Highland Games (the Pleasanton Games and Gatherings in my case) and would get my annual dose of bagpipes every Labor Day weekend. At some point, I think I became aware that my grandfather (not my Scottish one, though) played the pipes, though none of us ever heard him play. As time went on, I moved out and didn't get my usual doses of bagpipes, though I did keep up with my general musical pastimes (I played cello through college, getting a minor in music by taking the same class 5 times...gotta love performance classes). In 2016, I moved across the country and found myself needing to get plugged in to local groups and lay down connections. It took a bit of time, but in 2017 I inherited my grandfather's bagpipes and all excuses not to play were gone. I got involved with the Washington Scottish Pipe Band and started learning.

I started playing with the band about a year after I got up on the full bagpipes, and that brought with it its own challenges and rewards. Throughout my musical career, I had always had music, and I sight-read very well. Those two facts don't tend to mix well with good memorization, so this was another skill to build (on top of maintaining stamina on the pipes and keeping the drones all sounding). As I learned more and more tunes, I was able to play longer at each practice until I finally finished a two hour practice with the band without "blowing out", which is what it's called when your lip goes and you can no longer blow in the pressure required of the bag.

Playing in the band had been my biggest goal in piping, and that was truly realized at the Virginia Scottish Games in 2019, and then again at the Christmas Walk that December. By that point, I had started attending the SAWS Dames and Drams events, and was looking forward to leading the ladies of SAWS (and the rest of the parade, I suppose) as a member of the band. Truly a proud moment in my piping career. That same year I participated in my first (and only in person) solo competition as well at the Richmond Games. This has given me a new set of goals for my piping development and the virtual solo competitions of 2020 have helped me to keep up with my piping. Solo competitions are a whole new game of piping, but still filled with the camaraderie that makes band piping so enjoyable. I look forward to being able to pipe with my band-mates again, and the upcoming solo season is sure to provide much drive to practice.

If you're interested in piping, there are a couple of local bands with members who provide instruction as well as countless teachers across the globe who teach over video calls. I pipe with Washington Scottish Pipe Band, and cannot recommend them enough for a sociable band with quality performance standards. While not a competition band, we do have a few high-grade pipers and we do many events when global pandemics aren't on the loose.

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