The Capital City Pipes & Drums will be one of a handful of local bagpipe ensembles performing during this year's Dublin Irish Festival (Aug. 2-4; dublinirishfestival.org). Plenty more acts throughout the festival will employ the pipes one way or another.
Capital City's pipe major, Brian Batty, and president, Pete Duhig, were kind enough to answer a few questions about piping.
The Beat: When did you start playing the bagpipes and what was your interest in doing so?
Brian Batty: I have been playing bagpipes since 1984, so just about 29 years. I played other instruments and my family was involved with the Irish American community in my hometown (Nutley, N.J.) and I thought it would be fun to learn the bagpipes.
I eventually dropped the other instruments and have played pipes ever since.
Pete Duhig: I began taking lessons in the spring of 1970. Got inspired while watching the St. Patrick's Day parade in NYC on my lunch hour.
TB: What is the hardest thing about playing the pipes?
PD: Actually playing them isn't too difficult once you learn the tunes, fingering and techniques involved. Keeping the damn thing in tune can be a challenge. Marching and playing in either 90 degrees (Fourth of July) or 40 degrees (17th of March) is no picnic either.
BB: The hardest thing about pipes is tuning and staying in tune as little changes in air pressure can make a big change in tuning.
TB: Can you describe what it sounds and feels like when you're playing? The tone is so unique.
BB: That's tough to answer. It is a physical instrument so you feel the physical requirements of blowing in the bag, maintaining air pressure in the bag with your arm and trying to play the melody on the chanter with your fingers while maintaining poise and control. The sound is loud and enveloping since the drones are above and behind you and the chanter in front and low.
PD: If your pipes are in tune, it feels just wonderful!
TB: Isn't bagpiping associated with Scotland? So what's the hook with the Irish Festival?
PD: The pipes are indeed associated with Scotland but they're also a part of the broader Celtic culture. And anyone can play them regardless of their ethnic background. They just have to love the music and the bloody instrument.
BB: Yes, bagpipes are Scottish; however, the Celtic culture shares a lot of things between countries. A long time ago, the Irish war pipe was more prevalent in Ireland (same instrument as this one but with only two drones). While they are still played, the Scottish Highland pipes became more prominent and a symbol of the all Celtic traditions.