The NYU Pipes and Drums Band is everywhere in May, when the skirl of its pipes and snap of its snares bring a raucous pomp to many circumstances. But the band has a life beyond commencement, and for 34 years, it has enlivened alumni gatherings and parades with its colorful display of university pride.
“It’s so cool to be part of the legacy of this unique part of NYU,” says Jack Siebert (Tisch ’21), who last month began taking the free bagpipe lessons offered by the group. “The bagpipes are a unifying force at NYU, whether you realize it or not. In our nontraditional school culture, it’s something we all have in common.”
As an example of its special place in the NYU community, the band will lead the procession of dignitaries for the Inauguration of Linda G. Mills as NYU’s 17th President on Oct. 17. Its participation represents a nod to the university’s history and its roots in the community.
To stay sharp for performances, the group of 20 faculty, staff, alumni, and community members meets weekly in the music rooms in the basement of the Global Center, where the drone of the pipes can be heard long before they come into view. In keeping with its academic setting, the band offers free lessons to newcomers, which on a recent Tuesday included Siebert, fellow alums Jinghe Song and John Colangelo, and Sumanth Dara, a second year PhD student in biomedical engineering.
The hour lesson is taught by Pipe Major Brian Meagher (pronounced MAR), a fourth generation piper and NYU alum (Wagner ’94). The beginners learn on a chanter, which resembles a recorder.
Sumanth decided to join after watching a viral video of a mashup of traditional Celtic and Indian music. His parents encouraged him to study piano and violin as a child. “Now I have the freedom to explore,” he says. The lessons are challenging, but the atmosphere is fun.
“It’s nice to see people learning for the sake of learning. Some are older, some younger. There’s a sense of camaraderie,” Sumanth said. “Everyone wants to learn something new.”
After working on fingering and scales, the students took out their phones and recorded Meagher playing Eddie’s Lamentation, one of the easier pieces in the band’s repertoire. Several students shot video of him so they could refer to his fingering as well as the sound. “I love modern times,” Meagher laughed. “I used a cassette tape.”
They worked on the song together, with Meagher offering critiques couched in encouragement. “Straighten out your D finger. Beautiful,” he said, responding to a student’s squeak. “Let’s try it one more time.”