Students walking to dinner on campus are often nightly serenaded with bagpipes by sophomore Chance Bell. But it is not always easy to spot the piper from his perch among the trees below Seacobeck Hall.
Those who do catch a glimpse of Bell, a member of the Eagle Pipe Band, are eager to question him about his daily performances.
“Bagpipes are a little unusual so I can’t really blame them,” Bell said. “Most all responses I’ve gotten have been very positive. I would probably still do this even if the responses weren’t so overwhelmingly positive, but I am glad people enjoy the music.”
Bell gained so much popularity for his bagpiping performances that students have created the “Chance ‘The Bagpiper’ Bell Appreciation Group” on the social networking website Facebook. The group currently hosts more than 300 members and describes its purpose as, “For those who run on the fuel of Chance’s masterful bagpiping each day.”
“The positive response I’ve gotten from students has been a little overwhelming,” Bell said.
Students are not alone in their appreciation of Bell. He received a scholarship from The Eagle Pipe Band, a school-sponsored group of bagpipers and dancers who perform at UMW events including graduation.
Bell’s history with the bagpipes began around age 12 when he saw a pipe band performing on television. He immediately realized he wanted to pursue the instrument.
“My parents of course were completely against it at first, but I persisted until they broke down and found me a teacher,” said Bell. “I tried to teach myself at first but there are so many intricacies and subtleties to pipe playing that I thought I really needed a teacher.”
Bell’s primarily focus rests on competition. He has won awards for his performances as both a solo pipist and as a member of several pipe bands. Last summer, Bell performed with a pipe corps that took third place at the North American Championship in Canada. As a soloist he currently competes at the Grade I level – the second highest level of competition in piping.
Bell also spent time as a bagpiping instructor and currently provides lessons on the UMW campus. He says that the bagpipes are just as challenging to learn as any other instrument but can be strenuous to play because of the physical stamina needed.
“One of the most disappointing experiences in a piper’s life is getting his or her first set of pipes because most people struggle just to make them squeak and squawk at first and it takes a while to build up the strength required to play,” Bell said.
Types of bagpipes vary from country to country, but Bell plays the more popular Scottish Highland Pipes, which he describes as having three drones and one chanter. The drones create the “hum” heard in the background while the chanter produces the melody.
Bell dedicates a portion of each day to improving his technique and learning new maneuvers.
“I usually play the pipes for at least an hour every day, and spend another hour or so working out on the practice chanter – a small, quiet instrument resembling a recorder that allows one to practice new tunes and fingerings without disturbing the neighbors,” he said.
Bell tends to practice outdoors because of the powerful sound produced by the bagpipes. He usually stays in his spot in front of Seacobeck, but occasionally plays at the campus amphitheatre or by Pollard Hall.
When he is not performing around campus, Bell plays at local bars and events around Fredericksburg.
“I do get gigs off-campus sometimes, usually weddings and funerals, and I’ve been to a few jam sessions,” he said.