The music of the bagpipes is a sort of inherently divisive sound—either you love them or you hate them.
If you fall into the former category, you might be interested to know that one of the oldest continuously existing non-competition pipe bands in the state practices weekly right here in Parkville.
On Thursday nights, a group of between eight and 12 players from the Baltimore City Pipe Band meets at to practice the drums and bagpipes.
Ty Schwenk, an Aberdeen man who plays the bass drum for the band, said the commute to Parkville is worth it.
Schwenk, who has been playing with the band for 5 years, said it's all about tradition.
"We try to keep the tradition of the drums and pipes going," Schwenk said.
Check out a video attached to this article of the Baltimore City Pipe Band performing in practice.
Pipe major and band leader Ed MacFarland, a Carney resident, explained that for him it's also important to keep the tradition of the band itself alive.
"The band was founded in 1966 by then [Baltimore] mayor [Theodore R.] McKeldin," MacFarland said. "He loved the pipes and thought that the city should have a pipe band."
In the 46 years since then, the band has been a fixture at festivals and parades around the city and county.
MacFarland said the band marches in events like the Kingsville 4th of July parade and the opening ceremonies for the Towson Town Spring Festival, to name a few.
In a few short weeks, they'll perform at the Baltimore Grand Prix downtown after a successful performance there last year.
Band members, MacFarland said, run the gamut in terms of both age and experience.
For instance, Kathleen Ritter—a Joppa resident—joined the band at the behest of her husband, who used to play the bagpipe.
"The band needed a tenor drummer," Ritter said. "I'd never played before, but I've got good rhythm," she said.
By comparison the band's youngest member, 20-year-old grad Tom McCausland has been playing music since he picked up percussion in the fifth grade.
"I joined the band out of luck," McCausland said. "It's all about the music, the pipes and the company."
Even MacFarland himself had no experience to speak of when he joined the band about a quarter century ago.
"They were practicing at a rec center where my kids played baseball," MacFarland said. "They said they'd teach me the pipes for free if I committed to the band."
That's another tradition MacFarland keeps alive to this day.
"It's not a complicated instrument to play," he said. "There are only 9 notes, anyone who wants to do it can."
New members start one-on-one lessons, usually with MacFarland, and begin by playing a recorder-like instrument called a practice chanter.
"Those are about $55-$60 and we sell them to you; if you decide after a few lessons you're not interested we'll buy them back," MacFarland said.
And if you are interested? It'll take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to show you the fundamentals on the practice chanter.
"We take it slow to make sure that you want to do it, then if you decide 'I really want to do this' we'll talk about setting you up with pipes," MacFarland said.
Bagpipes can run anywhere from $700 to $800 for a used set all the way up through $1,200 for new pipes. Then the band will supply a new member with a kilt bearing the band tartan—a red and blue number called the Royal Scot—and a royal blue jacket.
"Once you pick up the pipes, it's almost like starting all over again because you have to learn to hold the instrument and play it," MacFarland said.
Currently MacFarland said he has one student who takes hour-long one-on-one lessons once weekly. After a year, he said, that student is starting to practice with the band.
Don't worry though, there won't be any pressure—the Baltimore City Pipe Band doesn't march in competitions.
"We are just interested in doing it for fun. Part of the reason I don’t want to do competition, it gets monotonous. You hit three or four different sets of tunes and practice them over and over to try and get them perfect," MacFarland said.
"I like to have the flexibility to play whatever we want and try different things with different kinds of music. For competitive bands it's more difficult, many of them don’t stay in existence very long. It takes a lot of effort and practice; sometimes members get angry with eachother because someone isn't playing up to par."
Interested in seeing the Baltimore City Pipe Band? They practice at Racers Cafe Thursday nights and perform at events around the region. A full schedule is available on their website.