By Brynn Boyer
On Sunday afternoons during the school year, the sound of bagpipes and drums echoes through Pollard Hall. Members of the University of Mary Washington Eagle Pipe Band are busy practicing for their fast-approaching competition season.
Last Saturday, the band performed at the Multicultural Fair and in less than a month they will compete in the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival.
For now, Dr. Ray Scott, UMW chemistry professor and the band’s pipe major, focuses the band on the three to four minutes of music they will compete with.
“To prepare for a competition, we have to work four songs to death,” Scott said. “But for a concert we get to work on 20 different tunes. That practice would probably be more interesting.”
The two hour, once-a-week practices, plus the every day individual practice commitment, ensures that every member will have the songs memorized and polished for the performances or competitions.
“The funny thing about bagpiping is that you have to memorize all the music,” Scott said. “We get a new batch of tunes in November and by spring, they’re all memorized.”
Last season, the Eagle Pipe Band traveled to four competitions. At the last one, in Richmond, they won first place out of six bands in the grade five division. Out of the five divisions of pipe bands, grade five is beginning and grade one denotes world-class professionals.
Scott, a previous member of grade one bands who has been piping since age 10,sees advantages to working with UMW’s band.
“It’s in town, there are no personality clashes, no internal politicking,” he said, “and we have the opportunity to do a lot of interesting things.”
Sophomore Chance Bell loves the competition atmosphere and is looking forward to the band’s trip this summer to the Ohio Scottish Games.
“[Competitions] are really fun because they give band members the opportunity to perform, receive feedback on those performances, and to connect with other pipers and drummers in the pipe band community,” Bell said.
This season, the band hopes to compete in six competitions, as well as several festivals and community events.
A little over 10 years ago, what would become the award-winning Eagle Pipe Band consisted of Scott and a handful of students marching and playing down campus walk during the 1997 Commencement. Former Mary Washington College President William Anderson encouraged the school to adopt the piping group and in Sept. 1997, the Eagle Pipe Band was formed.
The current 25 member band has grown to include pipers, drummers and Scottish dancers.
In addition to the musicians and dancers, the band also has had a drum major for the past three years.
Bekah Sargeant, a junior, explained that when she was Massaponnax High School’s drum major, she heard about the Eagle Pipe Band and decided to join as the drum major her freshman year.
“I had no experience with a Scottish band,” Sargeant said. “The styles are completely different.”
Sargeant’s job is to march the band in and out at competitions and lead the band during what are called “mass bands” at competitions.
The Mary Washington community, who has the chance to see the dancers and hear the pipes in action at local parades, concerts and Commencement, has overall been favorable to the Eagle Pipe Band.
Over 200 people are members of the Facebook group “Chance ‘The Bagpiper’ Bell Appreciation Group,” which states it is for “those of us who run on the fuel of Chance’s masterful bagpiping each day.”
“Bagpipes aren’t subtle and you can’t ignore them,” Scott explained. “There is nothing as horrible as poorly played bagpipes. But, if you do it right, tune the instrument and have someone who knows what they’re doing, it can be quite pleasant.”