Group promotes Celtic music at U

The band started in 1962 and has drawn interest from University students.

by Brady Averill

The Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band hunkers down for practice every Tuesday in a makeshift rehearsal hall – an Irish merchandise factory called the Irish Rose in West St. Paul, Minn.

Drummers practice on their black pads in the break room adorned with Irish toasts on the walls. In another room, eight members sit around a long table playing chanters, or reed pipes of a bagpipe, before moving on to actual bagpipes.

Eventually, the drummers and bagpipers converge to play the Celtic music that is prevalent in Ireland and Scotland to this day. The only thing missing is the uniform – a saffron kilt, black tunic and beret.

The group, which started in 1962, has drawn the interest of University students. Of the 20 band members, three students regularly play in performances, and as many as 10 other students are learning how to play.

So many University students have become interested in the band that they officially formed a student group last year. That group, the Student Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band, now has more than 40 members who either play or sit back and enjoy the music.

Together, they practice and play gigs throughout the year at events such as the Minnesota Scottish Fair, St. Paul’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and weddings. They also offer free bagpipe, drum and dance lessons.

Senior Matt Grimm, president and a founding member of the student group, plays the snare drum.

“Our goal as a student group is to give the University its own pipe band and to play good pipe and drum music on campus for everyone to enjoy,” he wrote in an e-mail.

University students also bring new blood into an older band.

Members do it for the music, camaraderie, ethnic ties and sometimes the free beer and food at gigs, band manager Dan Sexton said.

The band primarily plays Celtic music with an Irish emphasis, he said.

Any chance the student band gets to spread the “joy” of its music on campus, it plays, Grimm said. And when it does, most of the time it’s for free, he said.

Though only partially Irish, he said he and others got interested in Celtic music because they either had ethnic ties to it or knew people who played.

“I’ve always been interested in Irish and Celtic music,” said Josh Krage, a bagpiper and vice president of the student group. Approximately three years ago, he said, he noticed a newspaper ad for free bagpipe lessons from the band.

He’s been playing ever since.

“I’ve made lifelong friends here,” he said of the group.

Sexton said it takes two years to three years to become proficient at playing the drums or bagpipe. Usually, only one or two new members stick to it, he said.

Students from the University are “pretty darn good,” he said.

Wearing a T-shirt for the punk-Celtic band Dropkick Murphys, part-time student James Sherman leads the group Tuesdays. He’s the pipe sergeant, the second in command.

He’s been playing the bagpipe for 4 1/2 years. “I was interested in playing. Just out of nowhere,” he said.

His family is a mix of Irish, Scottish and Norwegian, so he’s listened to Celtic music since he was little, he said.

Sherman said he loves performing. During the summer of 2003, some members from the Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band played with Blink-182 at the Target Center because Blink-182 needed bagpipers, he said.

“You get so many emotions out of people when you’re playing for them,” he said.