For Highland Lakes bagpiper Lorinda Peters, the music she elicits from an instrument the size of her torso inspires her to continue learning, playing, and improving.
“There’s just something amazing about bagpipe music,” Peters said. “You don’t just hear it, you feel it through your entire body.”
If you’ve attended a Marble Falls Rotary Club Veterans Day or 9/11 event in the past several years, you’ve probably heard Peters play a tune — the word bagpipers often use for songs. It was the haunting beauty of those tunes that first drew Peters to the instrument, which she took up in 2011 when she and her husband, Jay, lived in Iowa. The couple now lives in Highland Haven, where they operate a computer security business.
As instruments go, learning to play the bagpipes is a challenge and a long-term endeavor. While some instruments can be learned by studying books, taking an online course, or even watching YouTube videos, bagpipes require personal instruction. Something about bagpiping makes it worth the effort, Peters said.
“If it was easy — what do they say? — anyone would do it,” she said with a grin. “It’s just an amazing instrument and the music, well, it’s something that really moves people.”
Bagpipers learn the basics on a chanter, an oboe-looking instrument with finger holes that extends off the bagpipe’s front. It’s the part of the instrument that plays the melody. It’s much quieter than actual bagpipes, which makes it a bit more bearable for those sharing space with a novice piper. Beginners spend at least a year or two learning the chanter.
From there, it takes another five years of practice and performing with the pipes before a player is considered proficient, especially if they plan to compete. As a member of the Austin Thistle Band, Peters enters competitions and performs, though she still considers herself a beginner.
A bagpipe consists of a main bag and bag cover; three drones, one of which plays a low A, two that play middle A; the chanter, which plays nine notes from low to high G; and the blowpipe, or blowstick, with its double cane reed. Pipers blow their bags full of air and tuck them under their elbows. Striking in, or squeezing the bag while continuing to blow, pushes the air through the chanter and drones, creating the sound.
The volume of the instrument stays relatively constant, so pipers use timing and “grace notes,” a series of short notes played together, to express themselves and enhance the instrument’s sound.
“Part of the process for learning pipes is learning the embellishments,” Peters explained.
Bagpipe music has two main genres: light and piobaireachd (pronounced peeb-roch). Light is also called “little music.” The bigger word translates to “big music.” The more familiar light music includes marches, jigs, dances, and pieces such as “Amazing Grace.” These are typically shorter melodies performed by a group or ensemble as well as solo. Piobaireachd is a more ancient style related to the Scottish Highlands.
“It’s one of my more favorite styles,” Peters said. “They are meant to convey stories.”
A piobaireachd piece can last 12-30 minutes and is often performed solo. Throughout the selection, the piper tells a story through the music, passing it down for future generations. The complex tunes are full of emotion, Peters continued.
Bagpipe music can seem sad or melancholy because it’s often performed at funerals and memorials, but the instrument and its piper can also play powerful, stirring, and uplifting pieces.
“There’s a lot of bagpipe music that you’d say is happy,” Peters said. “You can really play a range of music with all sorts of feelings. It’s definitely not just a sad instrument or music.”
One of the most requested pieces is “Amazing Grace,” a haunting and powerful tune, especially on the bagpipe. Peters loves playing it because the tune often connects listeners to touching memories.
“There are times when I’m playing it and you see the tears running down the faces because they’re thinking of someone or something the song takes them back to,” she said. “It’s very personal for them.”
That’s one of the beauties of bagpipes, their ability to reach into a person’s heart and stir emotions.
“It is a music people really feel in their soul,” Peters said.