By Sean Keane ’23
This March, St. Patrick’s Day and the festivities surrounding it returned to their former glory. People from all walks of life enjoyed this holiday by celebrating with family and friends. However, baking Irish soda bread and wearing wool sweaters are only part of getting into the holiday spirit; St. Patrick’s Day is incomplete without the beautiful sounds of the Highland bagpipes.
The bagpipes is an instrument embedded in Scottish and Irish tradition. The material of the bagpipes is one of the most unique features of the instrument. Originally, the bag was made from the stomach of a cow and the pipes, or “drones,” were made of ivory. When pipers began contracting diseases from playing the bagpipes, however, the instrument needed revamping and its materials rethought. Today, the bags are made of synthetic material while the drones come from African blackwood trees.
The bagpipes’ sound is instantly recognizable due to their loud volume and distinctive tone, drawing the ears of those around them. The music comes from a series of reeds inside the bag. There is one reed per drone as well as one reed for the chanter, or the part that the piper holds in their hands to play notes. The chanter has holes that the piper can cover with their fingers to
play a melody.
To become an excellent piper, one must be able to multitask. Pipers need to blow air into the bag, compress the air out of the bag with their arms, play a tune, and march all at the same time.
Many people assume that the bagpipes is only for the Scottish and Irish; however, this is not the case. Although it originated in the British Isles, the bagpipes can be found in many places around the world due to Great Britain’s expansive empire and the exchange of goods and culture that stemmed from it. Today, the bagpipes can be found in countries such as India, Iran, Spain, and Japan.
One does not have to look that far, though, to hear the sound of the bagpipes. Along with the famous New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the instrument can be heard across Long Island during the month of March and—if you happen to be on the first floor on Tuesday afternoons—at Chaminade High School. The Chaminade Bagpipe Band is a student organization that plays at various school events.
Each year, for example, members of the Chaminade family can listen to the band play at Chaminade’s Annual Gold Star Mass. The Mass honors the 56 alumni who gave their lives in service to the country, and the bagpipes open the ceremony to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” Mr. Thomas Cassidy ‘93, a former member of the Tara Pipe & Drum Band, moderates the club. He teaches students the basics of the instrument and guides them in learning intricate bagpipe jigs and reels. “It’s a very challenging instrument to learn,” Cassidy stated, “but with much practice and perseverance, it’s a lot of fun.”
The bagpipe band is open to all students, whether they are just starting to learn how to play or are more experienced pipers. The band’s small size allows for both individual and team development, and Cassidy has high hopes for what the future holds for this talented group of young men.
As Conrad Ertel ’22 explains, “It is a fascinating instrument to know how to play, and it’s a lot of fun to hang out with the band. I would encourage anyone interested to give it a try.”