Friday, July 12, 2024

Area Pipes and Drums Band Brings a Piece of Scotland and Ireland to Williamsburg

Members of the Williamsburg Pipes and Drums bring a taste of Ireland and Scotland to the area all year round. (Williamsburg Pipes and Drums Band)

WILLIAMSBURG — Everyone thinks of Pipes and Drums around March 17, with bands participating in Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations around the globe.

For those in Williamsburg, there is a pipe and drum band right here at home.

The Williamsburg Pipes and Drums are the oldest and continuously operated pipes and drums band on the peninsula. The organization was started in 1968, originally formed as part of the St. Andrew’s Society of Williamsburg. In 1979, the group changed its name to the Strath James (strath is the Gaelic word for river), and in 2006, it became the Williamsburg Pipes and Drums.

Andrew McGowan, drum major and president of the organization, has watched the band grow since joining.

“I’ve been here for a little over 18 months. In just my time, the band has grown now to 31 members — 21 pipers and 10 drummers,” McGowan said.

The Williamsburg Pipes and Drums Band celebrates Tartan Day 2023 celebration. (Williamsburg Pipes and Drums Band)

McGowan grew up playing the bagpipes and drums. He recalls seeing photos of himself as a young child with a set of bagpipes in his hand. He’s also proud of his Scottish heritage — both his parents were immigrants.

“To be a part of the Scottish culture that I grew up around is special. The music is so well known and being part of a group of like-minded people who love the music … it’s a really good group of people,” McGowan said.

As interest in the organization and instruments grew, the group decided to begin an instructional learning program. The next program will kick off in April.

Performing at a recent event. (Williamsburg Pipes and Drums Band)

“The great Highland bagpipes are such a fabulous instrument that people know of. It’s very iconic if you think about Scotland. The first thing you think about is the Highland bagpipes. They are a challenging instrument, but played well, they can be fabulous,” McGowan said.

The learning program is open to anyone who has an interest, young and adult. Due to the interest of young learners, the organization will start a juvenile pipe band soon.

The group practices on Wednesday nights at the Fife and Drum building in Colonial Williamsburg. The first half hour of practice is reserved for new learners. McGowan urges anyone with an inkling of an interest to try it out.

“Give it a try. It’s a neat instrument, very different from other instruments that you may grow up playing in the high school band. Usually, there isn’t an opportunity to play in a pipe band until you are much older. People are always fascinated when you tell them that you are a bagpipe player,” McGowan said.

The band participates in parades and events throughout the area and is also available for hire to play at weddings, retirements, and memorial services.

Gearing up for a big weekend of gigs to celebrate the Irish and Scottish, the Williamsburg Pipes and Drums have a long list of stops on the 2024 Saint Patrick’s Day celebration schedule.

Saturday, March 16, the group will play at 1 p.m. at Precarious Beer Project, 5 p.m. at Frothy Moon Brewhouse, 5:45 p.m. at the Hounds Tale, 6:15 p.m. at Precarious Beer Project, 7 p.m. at the Hounds Tale, and 7:15 p.m. at Amber Ox. On Sunday, March 17, the group will perform twice at Copper Fox Distillery, at 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

For more information on the Williamsburg Pipes and Drums, visit williamsburgpipesanddrums.org.

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