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Bagpipe, drum school attracts students from all walks of life

Tue., July 28, 2009

Judy Morrison first attended the Coeur d’Alene Summer School of Piping and Drumming in 1973, when she was 15.

Morrison’s Scottish heritage drew her to the bagpipes, but the evolution of the music kept her interested, she said. Her husband also plays pipes, and her son is a drummer.

The Tri-Cities woman began organizing the school in 1980 after the death of its founder, John McEwing, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. McEwing was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base when he founded the weeklong summer school in the late 1960s, Morrison said.

Some 75 students – 50 pipers and 25 drummers – descended on North Idaho College on Saturday for a week of instruction for all skill levels. Students come mostly from the West Coast and Canada, many drawn to study under chief instructor Andrew Wright, a top scholar on the history of pipe music, who travels from Scotland.

The school costs $750 for the week, which includes lodging at NIC’s residence hall and meals on campus. Tuition alone is $400. Students range in age from 10 to 75, Morrison said.

“It’s haunting, beautiful music, and there’s a challenge to it,” said Mary Jane Shea, 60, who lives in both Spokane and Sandpoint. She said at last year’s school, she was the oldest beginner on the pipes. “I figured you’re never too old to learn.”

This is 14-year-old Mackenzie Webster’s first year at the school after landing a scholarship. The Coquitlam, B.C., girl began playing the pipes four years ago and the drums one year ago. She plays in the White Spot Pipe Band of Surrey, B.C., which last year took sixth place in the juvenile division at the World Championships in Scotland, she said.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” Webster said. “I’m probably going to continue (playing) for my whole life and my kids will, too.”

Dan Bartlett, 42, is pipe major for the Albeni Falls Pipes and Drums Band of Sandpoint. He took up the bagpipes on a whim nine years ago, then fell in love with the history and the music, he said. When his band marches down the street with pipes blaring and drums pounding, he said, there’s a power in the music that speaks to people.

“I don’t have a Scottish bone in my body, but it’s a tradition you want to carry proudly,” he said.

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