OK, so it’s time again for high winds, evil leprechauns, disgusting green beer and arming yourself with a stout shillelagh. Lighten up dude, it’s also time for the good things ... remember parades and bagpipes?
We usually only think of bagpipes once a year, around St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe the occasional funeral (or even a wedding, in my case). But to the members, family, and friends of Mac-Tire of Skye Pipes and Drums, every day is like St. Patrick’s Day.
The sky is crisp and clear as March 17 approaches and the group prepares for the most exciting time of the year for bagpipe fans and players alike. What better place to prepare for such a holiday—named after a saint and all—than a church?
Mac-Tire of Skye (or MTS) rehearses each Thursday night in a big beautiful church on the Westside of Albuquerque. I showed up looking for bursting stained glass; instead, I found the group in the sturdier Sunday School room.
MTS begins with several groups of varying skill and age, using only “practice chanters.” The chanter is the pipe portion of the bagpipe; the practice chanter is a smaller version used for practice (I know you were wondering). Latched bagpipe cases strain at their seams as students pop them open, eager to begin. Instructors, such as Pipe Sergeant Nate Lorenz, patiently teach musical exercises over and over. Terms like “low G,” “grace note” and “doubling” are thrown around like darts in a pub.
One aspiring piper says he joined MTS “for chicks.” Another says it's because “my grandpa played.” The younger members stuff their piggy banks toward a $1,500 starter set of pipes, and they keep the group updated on their progress. That's $1,500. Plans are discussed for the future gigs they've been invited to play. And the list just keeps growing. Metronomes, foot tapping and the hum of a dozen or more chanters floats down the halls of this “Pipe Church”.
After a long night of piping, what self respecting player can go without a pint at the local pub? So off we go to the watering hole in search of refreshment. (Adults only, of course.) Irish beer. Pizza. Maybe a Martini. Yah, a Martini. And some bad karaoke this night at Sneakerz. They lament the passing of Whisque.
MTS first shuffled onto the local bagpipe scene—yes, we do have a local bagpipe scene—at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2008. "Mac-Tire” is an ancient Gaelic word meaning "wolf." And in the immortal words of Duran Duran they are indeed hungry like one. MTS even staged a photo shoot with real wolves. They were reminded to remove all meat products from their pockets, as a safety precaution. (But did they?)
It's clear this band isn't afraid to take chances, a tradition started when then 21-year-old Pipe Major Suzanne “Aden” Lumb formed the band in August 2007. The group says the mere presence of a new band, especially led by a young lady, seemed to intimidate some other local pipe groups to the point of sabotage. But MTS loves its craft and has banded together one of the finest bunches of solo misfits in all the Land of Enchantment. They even bought shillelaghs last year. MTS now regularly plays alongside other groups, such as Santa Fe’s The Order of the Thistle Pipes & Drums ... and friend Rudolfo Serna and his bongos.
The players all look alike in their tartan kilts, but you may have seen MTS around the holidays in Albuquerque's Twinkle Light Parade or Madrid's Christmas Parade. MTS can also be spotted at private parties, charitable events and various bar gigs around town. The group was voted “Best Upcoming Scottish Musical Group” in Albuquerque the Magazine’s most recent Best of the City issue. And you may have heard them carried on the wind from their No. 1 fan’s yard in the Ridgecrest neighborhood. (Guess who?)
This week you'll spot MTS at The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, March 14, starting at 10 a.m. on at Kirtland entrance on Gibson, winding past the Veteran’s War Memorial on Louisiana. You can also expect appearances at Kelly’s Brew Pub, O’Niell’s, The Mountain View Club on KAFB and both Gecko’s locations.
MTS says the road ahead includes becoming a competitive band in addition to its performance band status. Its future is well tuned and the group continues to grow in size and popularity. MTS says you can be certain that it's here to stay. Best wishes, or as they say in the old brogue tongue, Beir bua agus beannacht!