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My Brother Wears a Skirt with Pride
It is 6:30 A.M. The alarm clock next to my bed begins to beep, its non-melodious way of telling me to wake up and start a new day. I groggily turn the alarm clock off and lay in bed, barely aware of my surroundings. As my senses come about me, I hear a noise coming from behind my room walls. I search my mind as I wonder what the source of that off-beat sound is. Then, as my brain reaches full tempo, I realize my younger brother is at it again. He is playing his practice chanter for the bagpipes.
Tyler Scaff is not a typical freshman in high school, focused on dating, gossip, cars, and movies. Instead of trying to increase his social status, Tyler is concentrating on perfecting his musical chirps while playing his bagpipes. When not playing his computer games or doing homework, he is sitting at his desk in his room
practicing the chanter. Much like drummers use a practice pad before they move to real drums, Tyler uses the chanter to practice fingering techniques for the bagpipes. For two years now, Tyler has been practicing up to five times a week for nearly two hours each session. Although he does not participate in “normal” teenager activities, he feels no more accomplished than a young man who is at the top of his school band.
Tyler comes from a family with a long line of Scottish and Irish heritage. His father first embraced that heritage by joining a bagpipe band many years ago and learning how to play the Scottish instrument. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tyler took up the instrument by joining a local band and receiving lessons from a private instructor.
Peering intelligently through his glasses at me he said, “I had never played an instrument before, and I had always admired Pop for playing such a strange, out-of-the-ordinary instrument. It just seemed right that I learn to play the bagpipes.” While normal father-and-son activities include fishing, hunting, working on cars, and watching sports, Tyler and his father play the bagpipes together at church, funerals, and monthly parades.
Teenagers are unmerciful when it comes to difference. Wearing a kilt, sporran (Scottish purse worn around the hips), glengarry (Scottish hat), and gillie brogues (Scottish shoes), all the required attire when playing his bagpipes publicly, Tyler, on occasion, dresses extremely different from his peers. Although he is not in his school band, he plays the bagpipes for the Louisville Pipe Band and the Louisville Fire and Rescue Pipes and drums, the two bagpipe bands in the Louisville area, therefore a “band geek.” And Tyler, being one of the most intelligent students in his freshman class at OCHS, is proudly at the top of all of his classes. But because he dresses different, embraces his “band geek-ness,” and is much more intelligent than most of his class, he is ridiculed often.
“It’s difficult sometimes because my friends find the pipes pretty corny and silly. But it’s ok, I don’t really care. If people cannot accept the fact that I play something that isn’t in the norm, then that’s their problem. I ignore it. I’m above all that, and it doesn’t bother me.” Despite the fact that some people may laugh and poke fun at him, he continues to play with pride.
It is fascinating how such a young person can be so confident in themselves. With delight, Tyler plays his bagpipes at choir concerts before an audience of students, parents, and teachers, showing them that the pipes are not easy but he has conquered them.
“It was hard starting out,” Tyler said, “but once I got passed the annoyance of having to practice each day for a certain amount of time, it became an addiction for me. If I look at my practice chanter, my fingers just itch to play their favorite tune, so practice has become enjoyable.”
Tyler has talked of becoming a professional bagpipe player. To do that, he would have to move to Scotland and go to school there. But he has said he does not want a degree in bagpiping.
“I probably could not afford it,” he said, “but if the opportunity ever presented itself, maybe in the form of a scholarship, I see no reason not to go for it.” Though this opportunity might not ever come, he is content with piping as a hobby. He does, however, hope to become a grade one piper, the most elite of bagpipers. In competition, beginners start at grade five. If they wish to advance, they must learn certain required pieces and techniques and play them before a board of judges. It takes years, even decades to become a grade one piper, and there are only a handful of them in United States. Tyler, though, strongly believes this goal is one that is obtainable, and he feels he will achieve it someday. Currently, he is a grade four bagpiper.
Whatever Tyler eventually decides to pursue in life will include his bagpipes one way or another. Whether he uses them to create his career, or he just plays them for funerals and parades, bagpipes will always be a part of his life. They are his passion, and the one thing in this world that brings him complete happiness.
“Bagpipes are a huge part of who I am,” Tyler beamed. “I am very proud to be such a good piper at such a young age.”