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The Kalamazoo Pipe Band offers bagpipe classes

The Kalamazoo Pipe Band
Nancy Camden

If you want to start something new in the New Year, you might consider the Bagpipe. Piping classes and practice will start on January 8 at the First Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo.

Gloria Culp is a former pipe major of the Kalamazoo Pipe Band. For fifty years, every Tuesday, the club has met to instruct new pipers and to play together as a group.

“We start off with what we call a practice chanter which is sort of like a recorder," says Culp. "It has a reed and it’s the equivalent of the mouthpiece and the chanter, which is the part where the tune comes out and has the finger holes. And, you use that the rest of your life because that’s what we learn all of the music on. Those run—now, they’re about $125 for a good one. And, it takes about 6 months to a year to get up on the actual pipes. We do that, too. We help people get up on pipes.”

Culp says if someone already knows music or plays an instrument, they need less instruction. If someone doesn’t even know how to read music, the club will help. She says that the band has always been a band of “friends and colleagues and extended family, if you will.” The youngest student in the club was seven years old and went on to be a pipe major under a scholarship at Alma College. The oldest started at 88. Culp joined the group at age 42.

“There are 165 varieties of bagpipes around the world," she say. "The one everybody is the most familiar with is the one we play, which is the Highland Pipe. It started off being just a simple reed with holes in it being played by shepherds while they watched their flocks. And, somebody had a grand idea of supplying air to it with the stomach of a sheep and a sheepskin.”

“There are regional differences in the music," Culp says. "There’s still differences, but it’s a little more standardized this last 125 years. Queen Victoria is the one who mandated that it be written down. We have 7 basic notes that are on any staff of music that starts with ‘G’ and runs up to the high ‘G.’ So, that’s 9 notes. And, then, we have what we call grace notes and decorations, which are combinations of them. They are played very quickly. It’s to break up the monotony because there is no volume control on a bagpipe.”

Culp says the Kalamazoo Pipe Band plays at retirement parties, weddings, occasions in the communities and funerals. When performing in public, they wear kilts, bonnets, the knee socks, the shoes with 'the funny laces' and the sporran. Culp says it takes about a half hour to get dressed.

“It’s one those instruments were there is no middle ground,” she says. “You either love it or you hate it. There’s something about it that stirs right down to the soles of your feet, if you love it.”

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