Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview of Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center on Pipe Bands

Kevin Roe, General Manager of Celtic Cultural Center, 430 New Karner Road, Colonie, New York gave us a wide ranging interview on March 4, 2011. In this second in a series, Keven discusses the pipe bands which call Celtic Hall home:

Q: Please tell me about the pipe bands? Aren't they a big thing here? I don't know a thing about them, except they are here.

A: Neither did I because I've never been a piper.

There are four pipe bands that call Celtic Hall home, currently.

Scotia-Glenville Pipe Band has been around for 15 years or more. They are a youth band with no member over the age of 18. When members age out, they go to other bands. You would think it would be a training band, but in competition it regularly beats the adult bands. They don't compete in a separate category. They are very good and they work very hard. As the name suggests, they were organized out in Scotia-Glenville which is a school district which covers two towns – Scotia being one town and Glenville being another. Scotia is, of course, named after Scotland. It's right outside of Schenectady which had a large Scottish population around the turn of the last century – 1890s to 1900. The Scotia-Glenville Band has 30 to 40 players who are at the Celtic Hall a couple of times a week for their practices. Most of them are in each week again for lessons or meetings.

Schenectady Pipe Band is one of the oldest pipe bands in North America. I think they are either just coming up on, or just passed their centennial. I hope I didn't miss it!

They are one of the most well known pipe bands having been around so long. They play a number of public appearances they've been doing for years and years. If you go to the Union College commencement, that would be the Schenectady Pipe Band. They play at Hudson Valley Community College. They play all over.

There is another youth band which is the Twin Rivers Boy Scout Band. Twin Rivers is what they call the local Boy Scout Council because they cover both the Mohawk River and Hudson River. There are approximately 15 to 20 young men who form a non-competitive band. They are a learning and educational band. We are very pleased to have them here. We believe the more we can do to promote young people getting into Celtic, both Irish and Scottish cultural arts, the better off we'll all be.

There is a band here called Oran Mor. They are a Grade 1 pipe band, which to someone outside of the piping world, which would be you and I, means very little. Grade 5 is the beginning and Grade 1 is the top, the highest level of competition. There are only three Grade 1 pipe bands in the United States. There are three in Canada. In the US, there is one here, there is one in Los Angeles, and there is one in Washsington, D.C.

Q: Are members brought in to Oran Mor by invitation or tryout?

A: Both. You can tryout to get into the band, but you end up having to be invited anyway. The piping at that level is pretty close knit. The people who organize the Oran Mor Band know and invite good players from all over the East Coast. Anybody from the Northeast, if they are playing in a band, they are playing here. There are members from southern New Jersey, from Maine, from Plattsburgh, and even some Canadians who come down and play in this band. They are here two if not three days a week. They have to practice a lot because there is a lot of work that has to go into maintaining that level of skill.

We also have a school here at the hall for the teaching of piping outside of the pipe bands. Anybody wishing to learn the bagpipes or the drums can contact the Hall. Currently, the first three lessons are free. The nature of bagpiping is if you don't like it after three lessons, you won't like it anyway, so why charge them? If you do like it, you are going to be doing it for a lifetime.

Q: I believe I've seen some of the beginning lessons.

A: Yes, they are given on chanters. The instrument looks like the flute or whistle the snake charmers use. That's what people learn on. You don't get your pipes until you are fairly proficient on the chanter. You can buy pipes before promotion if you want to, but any good teacher is going to make sure you are proficient on the chanter before teaching you on actual pipes.

For the next portion where Kevin discusses instrument lessons and dance at the Hall, click here after this link goes live in a couple days!

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