Jefferson Pipe Band Tunes Up for Glasgow, Scotland
By Richard DuPertuis
Story and Photos By Richard DuPertuis
Late last year, members of a unique North State band made a vow. They committed to honing their talents with bagpipe and drums throughout 2016, and to taking these sharpened skills to the 2017 World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. There, the Jefferson Pipe Band will face its ultimate challenge, according to Pipe Sergeant Carrie Wigham.
“They’re the best pipers in the world,” she says. “At first, we were planning on going to the Worlds in 2016. But we realized we hadn’t done a competition in four or five years. We said, if we’re really going to do this, we need to get together and start competing again.”
Pipe Major Bob Skinner says the idea to take on the Worlds evolved from a plan to simply visit. “A number of us decided to go to Scotland about the time of championships,” he explains. “We thought if that many are going, why not compete?”
He says the time gained by postponing this year will be welcome, because it normally takes a year or longer to perfect the band’s set. All this time and effort distills down to a three-and-a-half-minute performance. “The judges listen to the drums, how tight the pipes are, the transitions and the overall ensemble – how it all sounds together,” says Skinner.
Wigham loves the “stepping off,” the beginning of a set, a march accompanied by drums. Then comes the drone, all the bagpipes together, followed by the musical note E, before the melody. This is not easily done. “There’s no turning back,” she says with a laugh. “You don’t want to have an early E or a bad drone or any squawks.”
The newest piper in the Jefferson Pipe Band, four-year player Nancy Menefee, hasn’t a single competition under her belt. “It is both terrifying and exciting at once,” she says of the finals in Glasgow. “I’m still beginning. And you don’t want to be the one who messes up the rest of the band. But it’s a fun thing to do, and we have a really good group. We’ll follow our dream and do the best we can.”
Menefee says the bagpipe is notoriously difficult to play. “It’s up there with violin and harp,” she says. “It’s a reed instrument, so it’s affected by the temperature and humidity.” Wigham says, “You’re constantly tuning,” as shereaches across her face to adjust the longest pipe on the bag. “And there’s a difference in how you tune if you’re indoors or outdoors.”
Wigham and Menefee say a highlight of their involvement with the Jefferson Pipe Band is an annual, week-long retreat in Seattle called Band Camp. “It’s a blast. You get to meet people from all over the country. I’ve made lifelong friends,” says Wigham. “The teachers are the best in the world.” Menefee sees it as an intense educational experience: “It’s total immersion, all-encompassing instruction. Five classes a day, an hour each. They push us to learn new technique. I love it.”
Both women say it was their enjoyment of bagpipe music that led them to the band. Each wanted to learn how to play, and each was referred to Skinner in Redding. The pipe major himself learned from in a California piping college more than 30 years ago, and he taught all the Redding pipers in the Jefferson Pipe Band, including his wife, Molly, who also plays drum in the band.
The name “Jefferson” comes from the geographic region over which the homes of the 20 or so members are scattered in Northern California and Southern Oregon.
Today, the Jefferson Pipe Band is well-known in Redding. It performs for numerous public events each year, ranging from holiday celebrations to fairs to fundraisers. They played two sets at the Reno Celtic Festival in October, taking a first and second place award. To prepare for Glasgow, Skinner plans four or five competitions this year, culminating in a return to Reno.
To raise funds for the trip, Skinner set up a crowdfunding page at GoFundMe, and the band will organize its own benefits until the World Championships in mid-August 2017.
Jefferson Pipe Band • (530) 243-5240• www.jeffersonpipeband.org