The Pipes Are Calling
by Phil Houseal
Mar 12, 2008
Whenever I have needed an obtuse musical reference I have called upon the bagpipe, figuring there were no Scottish Highlanders in the Texas hills to take offense.
I stand corrected, and duly admonished, for now we have an authentic piper in our midst.
Ian Blackie will perform on bagpipe at the Third Annual Paddy's Party this weekend, in benefit of the Hill Country SPCA.
Blackie, who moved to Fredericksburg last May, is a native of New Zealand. While that country is 12,000 miles from Scotland - traditional home of the bagpipe - Blackie boasts proud Scottish roots from his grandparents, who influenced his love for the instrument he has played for 40 years. New Zealand apparently has a rich tradition for Scottish music.
"I grew up in a very small town one-third the size of Fredericksburg," he noted. "Even though it was a small community, it had its own pipe band. At one point there were more pipe bands in New Zealand than in Scotland."
He pointed out the historical connection between Scotland and Texas, starting with the 30 Scots who fought in the Battle of the Alamo to the more than half of all Texas counties named for Scots. Some linguists even maintain that the Texan phrase "y'all" evolved from Gaelic. In spite of the shared history, Blackie is aware of America's ambivalence toward the traditional Scottish instrument. "Some of that distaste is deserved because some people who play bagpipes here don't play it well," he said. "I like to play the very best I can so they get a good impression of the instrument."
Appreciation of the pipes is an elusive quality. Bagpipes were woven into the lives and culture of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were the centerpiece of weddings and religious festivals, and led British military forces into battle right up to World War II. But due to their limited musical range, they gradually fell out of favor, a trend that continues to the present day.
What does Blackie consider to be the true beauty of bagpipes?
"It is difficult to answer, because the sound of the instrument and of a good band gets my attention every time. I have been doing it for so long, that it's part of me, I guess. But it is also cultural. One of the things I do when I teach is to make sure the student has an understanding not only of the history of the instrument, but also of the music itself. It is very rich.
"The Thompson family will join Blackie in providing Celtic entertainment at Paddy's Party. Sisters Kelsey and Kathryn dance jigs, reels, and step dances to the accompaniment of brothers Garret on fiddle and Gavin on guitar. Sponsors promise ample quantities of Irish food and drink at the event.
Blackie, who runs a small marketing company, turns to marketing when he performs at special occasions. He likes to share some history of the instrument, explain how it works, and answer questions about the music. He will be doing just that at Paddy's Party.
"I have interest in getting involved in the community as far as music, whether teaching or playing, whatever it might be," said Blackie, who is often booked for weddings and funerals. "But the focus this weekend is on the Society." Even so, the pipes, the pipes are calling.
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