Pipe band 101

The+City+of+Dunedin+Pipe+Band+drum+corps+warming+up+at+the+Southeast+Florida+Highland+Games.
The City of Dunedin Pipe Band drum corps warming up at the Southeast Florida Highland Games.

The City of Dunedin Pipe Band drum corps warming up at the Southeast Florida Highland Games.

The City of Dunedin Pipe Band drum corps warming up at the Southeast Florida Highland Games.

Antonio Amram, Staff Writer

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As someone involved in the very niche activity that is pipe band, I find myself constantly having to explain to my peers what exactly it is that I do. As a result of the repeated questions that I’ve answered at least a million times, I’ve decided to make a useful FAQ page that I can just link people to when they ask, “What is a pipe band?” for the umpteenth time.

  1. “You play in a pipe band? Does that mean you play the bagpipes?”

No. There are actually three different types of drums that play in pipe bands. There are snare drums (sometimes referred to as side drums), tenor drums, which have different pitches and twirl their sticks, and the bass drum, which should be fairly self-explanatory.

  1. “Wait, the school has a pipe band?”

No. the school does not have a pipe band. If they did, you’d know. Trust me. Bagpipes are too loud for you to never have heard them if they were at the school.

  1. “What exactly do pipe bands do?”

Most pipe bands are competitive (which I’ll address in the next FAQ), but some are not. All pipe bands resemble normal bands in that the primary goal is to work up a repertoire for performance, hopefully in exchange for money.

  1. “How do you compete?”

So, all competitions- at the solo or the band level- are divided into Grades Five through One, with Grade One being the highest. Solo competitions also have a Professional category, in which competitors receive prize money for placing. Judges evaluate competitors on various techniques, such as tuning (bagpipes are ridiculously finicky when it comes to getting them in tune), cleanliness (everyone playing together), and the overall strength of the composition and arrangement. Each band receives scores: two piping scores, a drumming score, and an ensemble score. The judges rank each band in their category, with the goal of the bands being to receive straight 1s, or the lowest point total. In the event of a tie, the higher ensemble score wins.

  1. “How could anyone enjoy listening to bagpipes?”

The acquired taste of the bagpipes is something that I would call a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome. If you’re around them long enough, they eventually become enjoyable. Additionally, listening to higher level pipers makes a huge difference between enjoying the instrument and running around with your hands over your ears looking for the dying cat that you keep hearing.

  1. “You wear a SKIRT?”

Eh… Kind of? It’s a kilt, which is unisex and super comfy, but unfortunately that distinction usually matters little to people asking this, and there are many pictures on social media of me in a kilt, so there’s really zero deniability for me on this one.

Hopefully, this answers most of the questions I get whenever a pipe band event pops up. While I believe I’m the only person in the school that has this problem, I’m glad that I’ll have a link to passive-aggressively copy and paste to whoever asks the next time.

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Pipe band 101