Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums


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Dear Aspiring Piper or Drummer:

The Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums of St. Albans West Virginia, welcomes you with open arms as a student of the Great Highland Bagpipes. Whether it is your dream to become a grade one solo piper or just to march in a parade with Pipe and Drum Corps, you have come to the right place to start. You don't need to be Scottish to play, all you need is the desire to play the pipes and we will be glad to start you down the right road to becoming a piper.

The Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums has been in existence in one form or another for over twenty-five years. Our current membership represent over 125 years of bagpipe playing experience across two continents. We are currently in a growing phase and are actively trying to recruit new pipers and drummers, such as yourself, to keep our pipe band growing and active into the next century. The Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums plays parades, concerts, and special events in the Charleston area and throughout the state of West Virginia. Our regular performances have included the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta parade, St. Patrick's Day entertainment, the Vandalia Gathering at the West Virginia Cultural Center, Battle Days Parade, Pt. Pleasant, WV, Symphony Sunday, Charleston, WV, Armed Forces Day Parade, So. Charleston, WV, Fourth of July Parade, The Greenbrier, WV. Our band also competes in Highland Game bagpipe competitions.

As a student of the Great Highland Bagpipe your first task is to acquire a practice chanter. A student will typically spend four months to one year working on the practice chanter to learn fingerings and other aspects of piping before moving on to a full set of bagpipes. A practice chanter is a modified pipe chanter used only for practicing and consists of a body,  outhpiece, and reed. It is much easier to learn the basics of piping on a practice chanter than on a full set of pipes, and these practice chanters have much lower volume.

Practice chanters come in many different brands and price ranges. We recommend that you purchase an African blackwood chanter of Scottish manufacture from a reputable Highland supply vendor. These high quality practice chanters cost anywhere from $80 to $95 and carry the manufactures name. Since you will only need one practice chanter for your entire life, and will be using the chanter regularly throughout your bagpipe playing career, we recommend the higher quality wooden model over the lower priced plastic model. If cost is really an area of concern, an inexpensive plastic model can be used to start. We highly discourage the purchase of practice chanters made in Pakistan because of very low quality (these practice chanter have no manufacturer name on them).

After you have practice chanter in hand, the next step is to have your first lesson on the practice chanter. One of the best ways to begin your instruction is by joining the Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums as a student piper. Joining the organization entitles you to a weekly group lesson taught by the Pipe Major or Pipe Sergeant. The lessons are held every Tuesday night during our weekly pipe band rehearsal from 5:30 to 7:00 P.M. in the basement of the St. Albans City Hall Building at 1499 MacCorkle Ave SW (this is the building directly east of the St. Albans Mall with a water fountain in front). Also, by joining the Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums you will be able to participate in band rehearsals, travel with the group to events as Highland Games (pipe band members usually pay for their own lodging and food), participate with the group in non-piping activities such as highland songs and dance, and meet people who have a similar interest in bagpipes and Scottish heritage.

A second way to begin instruction is to take private lessons from one of the experienced pipers in our group. Private lessons can offer more individual attention to the student and can more easily fit the students schedule. For more information about private lessons contact Pipe Major Mark Burdette at (304) 757-2493 or Business Manager, Jon Cox at (304) 727-6603. Even if you decide to take private lessons, please come out to the St. Albans City Hall on Tuesday nights and join us for rehearsal.

After you have acquired your practice chanter and have had your first lesson the most important thing is PRACTICE! It is unreasonable to expect that you will learn to play the bagpipes if you only pick up your practice chanter once a week at your lesson. But you have every reason to expect that you will soon be skirling the pipes if you practice at least 20 minutes at least four days per week. The amount you actually practice is of course up to you, but the more you practice the sooner you will be playing the pipes. The pleasure of making music, instead of noise, is your reward.

Again, let me offer my personal welcome to you as you start down the road to learning the Great Highland Bagpipe. If I can in any way be a assistance, please feel free to call me directly, or attend any of our Tuesday night practices at the St. Albans Water Works. I can only hope that your endeavors with the pipes brings as many happy hours as they have to me. And, as you work on that seemingly impossible birl, remember this, "The only thing that one needs to play the Great Highland Bagpipes is desire, a strong desire, . . . the rest will come."

Kanawha Valley Pipes and Drums
Mark Burdette
Pipe Major