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Grand Lake: Pipers keep the highland traditions alive

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News

One fine summer day, as parade entries formed to go through Granby, lone bagpiper Mark Feigner picked up his bagpipes and became the only member of a new highland band. Parade goers were fascinated by Feigner’s Celtic music. Today, his initial energy for the instrument is carried on through his group, which now boasts almost a dozen musicians – all who are set to perform Saturday during the Grand Arts Council’s Concert in the Pines.

Since that debut in 2000, many accomplished bagpipers and drummers have joined Feigner’s group, including a great deal of youth musicians from the county. Members include Mark Daniel (pipe major), Marc Hann (piper), Denise Robertson (piper), Holly Peck (piper), Nick O’Connor (apprentice piper), and in the drum section: Ryan Gallagher (drum sergeant), snare drummers Ethan Daniel and Noah Ralph, and bass drummer Simon O’Connor.

When Feigner’s family moved to Texas in 2006, he made sure to pass along the baton to the group’s new pipe major and leader, Mark Daniel and Drum Sergeant Gallagher. Daniel said it was an honor to be chosen as the leader. His first goal, he said, was to try to keep the band together and admits the group is still pretty small and in its formative state.

He also said he enjoys seeing his sons interested in bagpiping music, “an expression of our heritage,” and “being able to pass on to them something they can participate in throughout their lives.”

With piano and music lessons under his belt, Daniel found himself moved to learn the bagpipes once he began researching his heritage. He visited Estes Park for the Scottish/Irish Highland Festival and said “the sound and energy was tremendous.

That sparked something from within that I can only describe as innate or genetic.” He was inspired to track down an instructor, which is when he met Feigner.

Daniel said it takes some time and a “bit of commitment to play the pipes well.” Once players learn the basics and learn to play the practice chanter they can move up to the pipes, “and then the real challenge begins.”

He supposes the Highland bagpipes can be classified as a woodwind instrument, since the chanter has a double reed, and said the three drones (bass and two tenors) have reeds as well. Since bagpipe music is most associated with the Scottish and Irish, Daniel said the group tries to preserve those cultures by playing traditional tunes, passing along the culture through education, and dressing up in kilts (and all of their accessories) for public performances.

Daniel said each member plays an integral part in the group and the sharing of ideas is encouraged. Although everyone in the band probably can relate to many different inspirations, he believes that a common influence among them all is the music itself. “Listening to, learning to play, and preserving the genre is what inspires most of us.”

Some of the band’s members have extensive collections of pipe music, he added, as well as works by traditional Celtic bands and rock groups, and individual musicians who play the pipes and drums.

Most of the sets by the Colorado Highlanders are marches, but the group is also learning some jigs (including “The Foxhunter” and “Paddy’s Leather Breeches”), reels and strathspeys Daniel said, “to keep things lively.” Of course, he added, members always are tuned up to play familiar songs people usually associate with the bagpipes like “Scotland the Brave and “Wearin’ of the Green.”

The Colorado Highlanders Pipe Band encourages new members to join, and urges “closet pipers” to get those instruments out of storage and join in the experience. The group practices at 6:30 p.m. Thursday evenings in the Middle Park High School band room.

Saturday’s performance will be the Colorado Highlanders Pipe Band debut at the Grand Lake Community House, and, although each member undergoes various levels of the performance jitters, Daniel said, “It is always fun to be a part of these events and to contribute to our communities.”


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