Evan Copello: The Family Piper

I have been playing instruments all of my life. In 2014, I was slated to go to postgraduate school at the University of Edinburgh. I started wearing a kilt and going to Celtic festivals. I really wanted to learn the pipes, but was unable to commit the time necessary due to work and school loads. I used to listen to Bagpipe music on my walk to class every morning.

I decided to learn the pipes as a way to pay homage to heritage and treat my guests at my wedding. It was in the throws of COVID, so I had zero in-person options. Plus, pipers have this cult-like belief, where you have to be on the practice chanter for "at least a year" before even attempting the full set. Every forum, blog, vlog, etc., mentions something along these lines. It was incredibly disheartening.

I reached out to my local pipe band, and the Pipe Sergeant recommended Dojo U. It was recommended by a piper that I trusted, so it was more of a matter of convincing myself that I needed to do it. I was already working through the "Green Book," but I knew I needed more in order to reach my deadline of playing the full pipes in 6 months.

The Tutor was very clear from the beginning on how my hands and fingers should lay on the chanter. Building those good habits early has helped. Also, easing into embellishments has taught my finger muscles those fine-motor movements that make the trickier embellishments possible.

Initially, I could not make a sounds come out of my Pipe chanter. The breathing rhythm is still something I am working on... But everyone at Dojo U is so supportive! The "ivory tower" of bagpipers was really off-putting when I did my initial research into the instrument. I never experience that at the Dojo. I would submit some BAD audio files of practice sessions, and receive the kindest feedback from instructors. I never felt disheartened or unfairly judged. The Dojo staff removed all of the mysticism that made getting into the pipes terrifying.

It has taken me from squeaking out some horrendous noises on the Practice Chanter, to making tear-inducing music. Before I started the "Transitioning to Bagpipes" course, I was genuinely afraid of the instrument. I couldn't make a sound, and I was terrified of breaking something. After that course, I have dismantled, re-hemped, and reassembled them with ease. I also can actually play them and not sound like a "ghoul from the bog."

I have also become more comfortable with the concept of "always be tuning." I can now pick up my set, tune the drones, play for a while, and re-tune them with ease and confidence.

Learning tunes is so much easier. Just recently, after Prince Philip's funeral, I wanted to learn "Flowers of the Forest." It was much more doable when I broke each section into parts.

I have become the family piper. I'm always being commissioned for family events. It certainly has peaked my confidence, and shown me that with enough work, I can learn even the most difficult of tasks. It's also been humbling. I'm a musician, and highly educated. The bagpipes are the hardest thing I've ever learned, and I am still very much in the infancy stage of learning them!

I decided to learn the pipes to play them for my guests at my wedding. I didn't tell anybody that I was learning, aside from my Best Men (I had 2) and my Wife. Our families were clueless. When I came out for our "couples entrance" in full Celtic regalia (Kilt, Argyll, Fly, etc.) AND playing the pipes, it was a jaw dropping moment for everyone. My performance was so-so. Nerves and excitement made for a tricky transition of the songs (I played "Come Thou Fount" then transitioned into "Concerning Hobbits"), but I recovered and no one was the wiser for it. I still hear stories from our guests about how my playing effected their lives. Plus, watching everyones reaction on video was really great!

I'm nowhere near calling myself a "piper," but if I can use my novice skill to bring joy to others, I will gladly do it. Since the wedding, I've played for my grandparents who were homebound due to COVID, and at my in-laws' St. Patrick's Day celebration.

It's a gift that I will continue to share, and I can thank no one more than the folks at Dojo U. You all make dreams come true, not just for use players/learners, but also for our families who get to enjoy this magnificent instrument with us! Some have never even heard the pipes in person.

Evan Copello, Florida, USA

Related Articles