Bagpipe band at Ben Lomond High marches to its own beat

Monday , May 01, 2017 - 5:00 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The room was filled with loud, off-beat drumming and quiet fluting one afternoon in April as the Ben Lomond High School Bagpipe Corps practiced individually and in small groups.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere and with no perceptible cue, the group of drummers and pipers assembled, playing in harmony together.

The Ben Lomond Bagpipe Corps has been a longstanding staple at the school and its members, including lead piper and high school senior Joseph Richey, couldn’t be more proud.

“It’s a long-standing tradition, and I think it’s really cool,” he said. “I hope over the next few years we can grow it and get bigger and better carry on the tradition.”

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Music teacher KC McMillan, the group’s adviser, said despite having experience playing the bagpipes he’s pretty hands-off with the group.

“The kids teach each other,” he said. “It’s really rewarding to see the students actually push themselves and want to help someone else.”

Members are “kilted” once they can play a series of songs well enough.

Richey stood outside the practice room in April, listening as junior Hector Sanchez played for him in the hopes of getting kilted. While he sailed through the first few songs with ease, Sanchez struggled once he got to “High Road.”

“It’s quite the workout to maintain the seal and keep the pressure,” Richey said.

Sanchez didn’t ultimately earn his kilt that day, but he was determined to keep trying. The corps plays for private groups as well as sporting events and usually take to the hallways of their school every Friday afternoon, drawing a crowd of their peers.

“It’s kind of a school spirit thing,” Sanchez said. “Football games or anything, the pipes are playing, and everybody is cheering.”

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Back in March, senior Tania Cervants struggled to get through the song “Atholl Highlanders,” which she was performing in a duet with the bass drum for the first time.

She was kilted in May 2016 and said it’s difficult to play the bagpipes sometimes, but she powers through.

“It’s really cool to get the reaction because I’m so short. They see me, and they’re like ‘really?’” Cervants said.

McMillan said most people don’t realize playing the bagpipes is physically taxing. The musician fills the instrument’s bag with air, and the sound is generated by squeezing on the bag, pushing the air up through the tubes called “drones” that have reeds inside them.

Notes are played on a small flute-like instrument attached to the base of the bagpipe, which is similar to a recorder. 

McMillan said the bagpipe can only play eight notes, so music is made by mixing them up at faster or slower speeds and playing quick “embellishments” between note changes.

Adam Green, a senior whose older siblings have all played in the group, said the players memorize every song.

“If you understand the music and are actually able to play it, you’ll understand the pride in being a bagpiper,” he said.

Bagpipes have ancient origins, according to the Iowa State University Music Program, and early pipes had a single drone for emitting sound. The instrument evolved and became common in Ireland and Scotland. 

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The Ben Lomond bagpipe band includes a bass drum, tenor and snare drums that are played with flick-of-the-wrist “flourishes” waving decorative poms in the air.

“We kind of keep the main beat, but we’re also there for show,” senior tenor drum player Juliana Killough said.

McMillan said each bagpipe set costs about $1,000 and drums cost between $600 and $800. The school’s group, which tends to grow in size as the school year progresses and more students are kilted, is funded partially by the Ogden School Foundation.

Salem Rodela plays tenor drum and convinced her younger sister Nicksa Rodela to try out for the bass drum. The two are both kilted and perform with the corps together.

“We have our differences, but this is the thing we most enjoy, playing with the pipe corps,” Salem Rodela said.

Richey and many of his band mates want to keep playing after they graduate. Some are even basing their choice of college on whether there’s a bagpipe group.

Richey is already involved in a community bagpipe group made up of several Ben Lomond High alumni. They play as the Lomond Highlanders.

“People say it’s an annoying sound and most of the time, I mean 95 percent of the time, they’ve listened to a bagpipe that’s not tuned,” he said. “If you know how to play it correctly it’s actually quite beautiful.”

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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