Piping Hot Tunes

Legend has it that a couple of hundred years ago, a Scotsman traveling through England was condemned to death for carrying what the local authorities considered an instrument of insurrection. They were talking about his bagpipes, of all things. How skittish can the British be, you ask? Consider that bagpipes had long been employed by invading armies to announce their advance into enemy territory. The dissonant sound of bagpipes was a good omen, but only when your side was doing the blowing. "The bagpipe is a very stimulating instrument," explains Nigel MacDonald, pipe major for the St. Andrew's Pipe Band of Miami. "It stirs something in you when you hear it."

The chaps of St. Andrew's have been stirring folks in South Florida for more than 35 years. In addition to the usual weddings, funerals, and christenings, the sixteen-member ensemble is a regular fixture at civic events such as the annual Orange Bowl parade, the Key Biscayne Fourth of July parade, North Miami's WinterNational Thanksgiving Day parade, and, of course, St. Patrick's Day festivities in Broward County. The band has even performed for Britain's Prince Edward.

This weekend mere commoners will have not one but two chances to catch the pipers squeezing out the tunes. Oddly enough on Saturday they'll play the German American Social Club's Christmas dance. (In case you think this is a bad case of multiculturalism run amok, MacDonald reminds us that bagpipes remain a popular instrument not just in Scotland, but throughout much of Europe.) The White Heather Highland Dancers also will be there, kicking up their heels for the holidays. On Sunday the very busy bagpipers will preside over the Krikin' of the Tartan, a traditional ceremony in which the faithful present their tartans (the signature cloths worn by different Scottish clans) for blessing from the church.

Think you might want to blow your own bag or maybe wear your own colorful skirt? MacDonald says the band is always looking for new pipers (and drummers). Men and women of all ages are welcome. Never played? MacDonald and company will teach you. Lessons and rehearsals occur Tuesday nights at the Miami Springs Presbyterian Church. And, yes, you do get to wear those great Scottish kilts (the St. Andrew's Pipe Band sports the MacKenzie tartan, predominantly green and black with red and white stripes). As for the age-old boxers or briefs question, MacDonald notes it's left to personal preference. What does he wear? Well, neither. "I prefer to go traditional," MacDonald says. Also an option.