Watch any bagpiper play, and you will see an amazingly intricate process taking place. He or she must blow air into the bag through a windpipe and then force the air out through the three drones with pressure applied by the arm the bag is tucked under. Intake and outtake must remain steady and constant, because if it is not, the pitch of the pipes will change and will sound out of tune.
All the while the air pressure thing is going on, the piper is fingering the tune on the chanter. Because there are relatively few holes, some notes may require awkward finger positions or half-covered holes and such. Plus, the chanter is always producing sound, so there is no rest between notes, and to play the same note twice in a row, a short note, called a grace note, must be played in between.
Add the fact that each set of pipes has four separate, very finicky reeds, which are subject to changes in temperature, altitude, humidity and other things, and you'll see why bagpipes are hardly the easiest instrument to play, let alone master. They require the coordinated effort of lungs, diaphragm, fingers, arms, brain and as they are often played on the move, legs.
Listen to any bagpiper play, however, and you will soon discover that another body part is involved. Bagpipers also play with their hearts.
More than many other instruments, bagpipes seem to pull out additional layers of emotion. For most players, there are elements of heritage and tradition and passion that run deep into the soul.
"Hereditary insanity is not necessary," jokes Jack Marinello, drum major for the Salt Lake Scots. But it's usually there, he says. Despite his Italian last name, "my mother was Scots-Irish, so it's in me, too."
To be a Scot, the Utah Scottish Association notes, "is to be fiercely proud, patriotic and competitive." Nothing illustrates that any more than the bagpipes, which have become a quintessential symbol of Scotland and all things Scottish.
The thing about bagpipes, says Andrew Morrill, pipe master for the Wasatch & District Pipe Band and president of the Western United States Pipe Band Association, "is that when they are played well there's nothing like it in the world." On the other hand, when they are played badly, "well, there's nothing like it in the world."
Fortunately, he says, "We've learned so much about playing bagpipes. It's gotten so much better." If you went back and listened to how pipe bands were in the early days in this state, "they'd sound pretty hideous. It's amazing what we put up with. But it's gotten so much better. All the companies sound really nice."
Utah has its fair share perhaps more than it share for a state its size of pipers, Morrill says. "We even have two high school pipe bands, at Ben Lomond and Payson. That's very unusual."
In all there are about 10 pipe bands in the state. You can see them marching in parades, playing at weddings and funerals, performing in memorials and other events. They also participate in competitions all over the country.
Many of them will be out in full force, with other pipe bands from around the region, to play and compete at the annual Scottish Festival & Highland Games, which will be held at Thanksgiving Point this weekend.
The festival will include athletic competitions, such as the caber toss and the hammer throw, dance competitions, concerts, food, vendors and more, including pipe and drum competitions and mass performances.
The bagpipe tradition in Utah has a rich heritage. The Utah Pipe Band was formed in 1937 by Robert S. Barclay and is still under the direction of the Barclay family today.
"We are the oldest continuously organized pipe band in the Western United States," says Shelly Barclay, whose husband, John, now directs the band and whose four sons three pipers and one drummer play with the band.
In the early days, she says, "the Utah Pipe Band was considered (LDS Church) President David O. McKay's pipe band. He insisted that it be right behind him in all the parades. And our motto is 'Where ere thou art, act well they part,' which he used to say."
Morrill shares the same great-grandfather with John Barclay and, in fact, played with the Utah Pipe Band for years before starting the Wasatch & District band. In fact, he says, most of the bands in Utah have come out of the Utah Pipe Band.
His great-grandfather, Robert Dougan, played the pipes in Scotland. The Duke of Northumberland gave him some ivory and silver to make the duke some pipes. He saved enough ivory and melted the family silver to make a set for his son, James. But the sacrifice paid off. When he was 18, James competed in the Queen's Jubilee, was named the best piper in Britain and got to play for Queen Victoria.
After the family emigrated to Utah, Morrill says, "they missed the music of Scotland. There were also some missionaries who had been there. They all had their kids learn how to play the bagpipes."
Morrill's mother continued the tradition, and he picked it up from her. Piping has taken him amazing places, he says. He got to solo with the Utah Symphony; he's played with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; he was asked to play at the cemetery for the funeral of President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"That was such a special thing," he says, "even if I did have to stay out in 27-degree weather for several hours."
But, he adds, "I've done more incredible things with pipes than I ever thought. It's been a joy."
Marinello came to the pipes in a very different way. "I was 50 years old when I took them up." He grew up in Southern California, and after his high school did the musical "Brigadoon," "I fell in love with them. I went out and bought me a set."
But he quickly learned, "they are not an instrument that can be self-taught. It's not like a guitar that you can pick up and play. You need someone that knows what to do, and I couldn't find any teachers in Southern California at that time. So they sat on my mantel for 25 years."
Marinello moved to Salt Lake City, saw the Salt Lake Scots marching in a St. Patrick's Day parade, "and I knew that was the group I wanted to play with."
The Salt Lake Scots, which has about 20 pipers and 10 drummers, was formed in 1962. Marinello has been associated with them for the past 13 years. "Six years ago, I competed with them for the first time."
The band competes throughout the West, but in 2003 it went to the World Bagpipe Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. That was a sight, he says, "some 7,000 pipers and drummers from 252 bands. It was very stirring."
When played at their best, "there's nothing like bagpipes," Morrill adds, "they are magical."It is truly music of the heart.
If you go
What: 2008 Scottish Festival & Highland Games
Where: Electric Park at Thanksgiving Point
When: Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
How much: Friday Night Tattoo, $7; Saturday, $10 adults, $7 children; both days, $13-$16 at the gateAlso: Register to win a trip for two to Scotland.
Pipers at the festival
The following pipe bands will be participating in the Scottish Festival:
• The Salt Lake Scots
• Wasatch & District Pipe Band
• City of Denver
• Colorado Isle of Mull
• The Henry's Fork Pipes and Drums
• J.T. Dunnie
• Payson High School
• Utah Pipe Band
• Galloway Highlanders2 comments on this story
• White Peaks CentennialThey will all be performing at the Tattoo at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The massed bands will play Saturday at noon and again at 6 p.m. Competition will start around 12:30-1 p.m. and run to around 4:30 p.m. The public is invited.