LAYTON -- Not too often is a musical instrument compared to wrestling an octopus on your shoulder.
However, that is how one Top of Utah music teacher describes trying to learn how to hold and play the bagpipe.
With the stick-like drones balanced precariously on the shoulder and the player's arms wrapped tightly around the air bag as both hands hold a recorderlike chanter for fingering out the notes, it can be a bit challenging, said Layton resident Dale Hawkins, who has been playing the bagpipe since middle school.
Now, 20 years later, Hawkins continues to teach and play professionally.
Given Utah's rich Scottish heritage, coming across a bagpiper is surprisingly not too difficult, he said.
Hawkins said he heard there are just as many bagpipe players per capita in Utah as there are in Scotland.
"It boils down to family ties from the British Isles and people trying to connect to their roots, especially with the pioneer movement. There is a strong heritage of the Scots in Utah," he said.
There is also something mesmerizing about the instrument that catches people's attention, Hawkins said, explaining why he has enjoyed playing for so long.
"It is really a unique instrument to listen to and envelops the listener. For some, it is a really soothing, ethereal experience -- unlike any other instrument -- which really drives people's love for the sound of the pipes."
It catches other people's attention because it's loud, he said.
"It's really a love-hate relationship with the shrill sound it makes. Anything played well, though, has a beauty to it."
A bagpipe is made up of three main parts: the drones protruding from the bag that emit the humming noise behind the melody; the air bag that acts like a big balloon or air reserve; and the chanter, where the melody comes from.
Unique to the instrument is the continuous sound it makes, with no breaks between notes because the chanter is attached to the bag and not the musician's mouth, as with most other reed instruments.
When it's necessary to take a breath, the musician squeezes the bag, forcing air into the chanter, and then blows more air into the bag with no disruption in sound.
Bagpipes can play only nine notes, which may sound simple compared to the wide range of notes most other instruments can provide. But because of the continuous sound, it can get tricky when trying to play the same note in succession.
Hawkins uses certain patterns of notes and special movements of his fingers to create those embellishments.
Learning the bagpipe is not hard, Hawkins said, but it does require dedication.
His students start out on a practice chanter, similar to a recorder, to learn the fingerings, notes and a few simple tunes.
That generally takes about a year, at which point the students are ready to move to the bagpipe, he said.
One of Hawkins' students, Matthew Kravtzoff, 28, of Salt Lake City, started taking lessons from Hawkins after his wife gave him a set of bagpipes.
The most difficult part, Kravtzoff said, is not actually learning how to play, but finding time to practice.
"Because the bagpipes are loud, I have to find time in the middle of the day when my neighbors aren't sleeping, or when my wife isn't home, since it is kind of bothersome," Kravtzoff said.
Playing the bagpipes is an ongoing learning process, Hawkins said, because there is such a wealth of pipe and Celtic music available.
As Hawkins said, "There are always opportunities to better yourself at whatever you do."