Ariz. policeman hits right notes as bagpiper

By Gerald M. Gay

Arizona Daily Star

Published: Friday, March 30 2012 1:05 a.m. MDT

TUCSON, Ariz. — Elijah Woodward leans back in his seat and taps his bare foot on the tile in his kitchen, keeping in time with an electric metronome.

Across the way, his student, Genesis Short, blows into her bagpipe practice chanter, her pink nail-polished fingers lifting up and down on holes built into the instrument's body.

With a missed note here and there, and some obvious frustration, Short makes her way through "The Green Hills of Tyrol," one of three traditional highland bagpipe songs Woodward requires his students learn before graduating to full pipe training.

Short has worked on her three songs for more than a year, perhaps longer than some would spend on the chanter, but Woodward stands firm on his rules.

"On full pipes, it is easy to get disappointed early on and kind of drop it," he said. "If she knows what it sounds like on the chanter, she'll know what it should sound like when she gets on the pipes. She'll have something to shoot for."

Woodward, 25, speaks from more than a decade of experience.

He started learning the bagpipes when he was 12 years old, shortly after his family moved from Denver to northwest Tucson.

Woodward will tell you it's in the blood. His uncle was a piper in upstate New York and Woodward inherited his old music books when he decided to learn the instrument.

Things didn't come naturally.

"It required a lot of hard work," Woodward said. "You have to learn how to keep a beat, do the finger movements. Bagpipers don't have the luxury of having the music in front of them like the orchestra kids do."

What Woodward did have was time.

"I was home-schooled and at a point in my life where I really had nothing going on," he said. "I was giving two to three hours a day to the craft."

He also had support from his parents, who would drive him and his sister, a trained Scottish Highland dancer, to competitions all over the Southwest.

"It really became a family thing," he said.

Today, Woodward is a member of the Mesa Caledonian Pipe Band out of the Phoenix area and is a highly sought-after player for hire, flown annually to Scottish Highland competitions in California, Nevada and other parts of Arizona.

His speciality is Highland dance playing, which is quicker in tempo and has a less linear beat than regular band piping.

Woodward will play dance competitions from beginning to end, accompanying up to 100 girls, dancing an average of four songs apiece.

"It is a marathon of blowing and squeezing," he said. "It is not a free ride. They make you earn that money."

When he isn't playing festivals, or working his day job as an Oro Valley police officer, Woodward enjoys teaching others.

Short, 27, has been a regular student of his since hearing about his skills from pipers at last year's Arizona Renaissance Festival.

Short has her bagpipes all picked out. She's just waiting to get the green light from her teacher.

"He cracks the whip, but in a very encouraging way," she said. "It makes me want to come back and learn."

Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

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