In the first weekend of November, the Alma College Pipe Band competed at the Charleston Highland Games held on Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina. They took first in their division— known as Grade 4—as well as challenging and placing first in Grade 3.
Piping is divided into divisions known as Grades 1 through 5 based on skill level. Alma College Pipe Band is part of the Midwest Pipe Association and typically competes in Grade 4. However, due to their performance in Grade 4 events, they were accepted to challenge up one level higher to Grade 3.
During competition there are two judges for piping, a judge for drumming, and a judge for total ensemble performance. All of these scores add to a total score against other bands in the same grade.
“This was our strongest performance as a band and we were rewarded heavily with two 1sts in piping, 1st in ensemble, and 2nd in drumming out of 3 other very good bands,” said Laureano Thomas-Sanchez (’20).
Although bagpipes are the first thing people think of when they hear pipe band, pipe drumming is very important to the success of the Alma College Pipe Band. There are three different kinds of drums used in pipe bands: snare drums, tenor drums and a bass drum. The tenors are similar to a small bass drum and are worn at the hip, making them very different from the tenor drums used in marching bands.
“While there are many differences between concert percussion and pipe band drumming, the biggest one would probably be the role that percussion plays in each group,” said Anna Dobyns (’20).
“Pipe band drummers are much more responsible for keeping the beat than a concert band percussionist would be.”
The Alma College Pipe Band is led by Andrew Duncan and David Zerbe, with Duncan focusing on the pipers and Zerbe focusing on the drumming portion.
Pipe bands play traditional Scottish music at their competitions, and much of this repertoire is standardized among pipe bands worldwide.
“Bagpipes originated as a folk instrument, so most of our songs are fast, dance-like pieces,” said Dobyns. “We play styles like jigs, marches, reels, and strathspeys.”
Thomas-Sanchez — along with many other Alma College pipers — competes individually at solo bagpiping competitions whenever they aren’t competing with the full band. The grades are organized in a similar fashion to the band competitions, but there is an extra Open Grade above Grade 1. This grade is reserved for pipers that have reached a professional level and Thomas-Sanchez was bumped up to this level in January of this year.
“In 2017, I competed in 33 solo events and won 29 while taking second in the remaining four events,” said ThomasSanchez. “I also received 18 AGL (Above Grade Level) markings which means the judge believed I was playing at a [professional] level.”
Piping can be very rewarding for those who are really invested, and can also give some travel experiences to students who compete at a high level.
“Back in August, I traveled to Perth, Scotland and competed in the C grade Piobaireachd event which I was very happy to win playing one of my favorite tunes, Corrienessan’s Salute,” said Thomas-Sanchez.