STILLWATER, Okla. —
As with any skill, practice brings perfection.
For members of the Stillwater Pipe Band, practice takes place in a room at the First United Methodist Church in Stillwater at least one hour a week. But, it doesn’t end there, band member Scott McKinley said.
“Every day I’m practicing about one or two hours,” McKinley said.
Another member, Scott Wilson, said it can take anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 hours of practice to master the bagpipes.
“There’s a lot of people out there who are interested in bagpipes,” McKinley said. “I think there aren’t many people who are willing to put in what it takes to become a piper. We’ve had quite a few people come in and express interest, but I think once they realize how much work it really is, we’ve had a lot of people back out.”
However, a select few were up to the challenge and numbers in the group have risen. But there’s always room for more, he said.
“Our biggest draw has been having performances,” Wilson said. “People come up and say, ‘I love the sound of that. I’d love to be able to play like that.’”
And while the bagpipes sound great on movie soundtracks and albums, they pale in comparison to hearing the power of the instrument live.
“Typically, if we play with other instruments, the other instruments need to be amplified,” Wilson said.
Professional musicians and bands such as the Dropkick Murphys, The Real McKenzies and the Wicked Tinkers have used a mix of the bagpipes with guitars and drums.
“I think it ‘s taken off because one it’s a very unique sound,” McKinley said. “There’s no other sound like the bagpipes.”
McKinley said the bagpipes can transcend age. While younger beginners have more dexterity when it comes to playing, older, more experienced players are better. The two ideas go hand-in-hand.
“You’ve got to have some time put in when you’re younger in order to become good, but then once you get too old your fingers don’t work as well as they once did, so it’s kind of a medium age instrument,” McKinley said.
The group got its start in 2007 under Doug Stevenson who wanted to find fellow pipers and continue work on his docorate. While Stevenson is no longer a member, the group thrives five years later.
McKinley said one of the things that got him interested in learning the pipes was the traditional music.
“One of the tunes I know is at least 500 years old,” McKinley said. “I guess I never found that in any other instrument.”
He spoke on the many forms of music the pipes are capable of playing, including an ancient way of playing called piobaireachd. This form of music was developed before the existence of staff notation.
“They would hum the tune,” McKinley said. “They had little phrases of humming it and then the piper would be able to play then and replicate it.”
While the music itself is not difficult to understand, manipulating the instrument is the hard part, McKinley said.
“You’re having to manipulate four reeds,” McKinley said. “They all have to be in tune with each other.”
Wilson said the pipes only have nine notes and those don’t include flats or sharps or different keys to play in.
But with the hard work the group puts in their free time, there is a fun aspect to it all.
“Our group is a lot of fun,” Wilson said. “We have a good time. We joke around a lot.”
He said it’s fun to go to event and plan for the next performance. The group has performed in events including parades, church services, funerals and weddings.
“It’s interesting the kinds of things people will ask you to come play for,” Wilson said. “Sometimes you have to explain to them that perhaps pipes are not, in fact, the instrument that they want for their tea party in a small room.”