Annapolis streets alive with the sound of bagpipes

May 28, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

On Tuesday evenings when the weather in Annapolis is clear, a distinct sound bounces off the steeple of St. Anne's Church, wafts down Main Street toward the City Dock, and drifts over West Street past banks, stores and restaurants.

At first, it sounds like the screech of a cat with its tail caught in the screen door. Then the squawk deepens and resembles the horn of a tractor-trailer.

But at last the bagpipers tune their instruments, and the noise becomes music.

The Chesapeake Caledonian Pipe Band has resumed its weekly practice sessions in front of the Anne Arundel Circuit Courthouse on Church Circle.

"People look forward to it," said Robert Wallace, the club's president, who has been playing the pipes for nine years.

The club began practicing at the courthouse two years ago because it was a central meeting place, and Mr. Wallace, who is the court administrator, could let members inside if it rained.

In the beginning, they tried to play in the parking lot behind the courthouse, but police told them they were disrupting the recuperation of patients at nearby Anne Arundel Medical Center.

At their first practice this season, five bagpipers turned out and struggled to tune their instruments, a feat made difficult by new reeds and warm, humid weather.

Lisa Strang's bagpipe sprang a leak, forcing her to stop. "Nine-tenths of learning to play is learning maintenance," she said a bit wearily.

Ms. Strang, who lives in Easton and plays several instruments, took up the bagpipes three years ago because she heard it was difficult.

"I did it for the challenge."

She was not disappointed. Blowing through the bagpipe's double reed is like "playing four oboes at once," she said.

The bagpipe can only play nine notes, but it plays them loudly. The sound level cannot be controlled like other instruments, Ms. Strang said. And bagpipers, unlike other musicians, must memorize all of their music because their instruments have no attachments with which to hold sheet music.

Members of the Chesapeake Caledonian Pipe Band live on the Eastern Shore, Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Calvert counties, but they are united by their love of bagpipe music.

"It was always something I wanted to do," said Mr. Wallace. "I hit 45 years old and said that I had to do it."

"I enjoy the sounds of the pipes," said A. Grier "Pat" Kelly, who traveled with his wife, Jean, from the Eastern Shore to attend the practice. Mr. Kelly took up the pipes three years ago. Mrs. Kelly took on the role of the band's tenor drummer.

Although the bagpipes are limited in the range of sound, they are not limited in emotion, Mr. Kelly said. "If they play a lament, it can be very sad. If they play a retreat, it can be sentimental, and if it's a jig, it's happy."

The band performs each year at St. Patrick's Day parades in Baltimore and Ocean City and in July Fourth festivities in Annapolis. It also competes in contests.

But its most regular performances are the Tuesday night practice sessions in the spring, summer and fall, when all of downtown Annapolis can hear them.

Sometimes as many as 50 people crowd along the sidewalk to hear them, but on their first night this season, only a handful of pedestrians paused to listen to the familiar Scottish melodies.

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