Omaha’s Pipe Band Keeps the Rhythm Going Strong
Non-profit organization Omaha Pipes and Drums teaches bagpipes and drums for free and offers scholarships to attend workshops across the country. The group, consisting of nine pipe players and five drummers, has competed in the annual World Pipe Band Championship in Scotland twice (in 2004 and 2017) and plans to continue to do so.
Despite its small membership, the Omaha pipe band has managed to remain steadfast for nearly six decades, while most bands often dissolve within a few years. “Most people’s perception of bagpipes isn’t great because they heard their crazy uncle play the bagpipes at a wedding once, but for me, it’s a very serious instrument,” said Dr. John Brady, the pipe major and musical director of the Omaha Pipes and Drums Band. Brady joined the band in the late Nineties, and two decades later, he became appointed musical director.
Before deciding to learn the instrument, Brady’s first experience with the band dates back to his decision to mirror his wife’s decision to play, leading to his first competition. “I didn’t want to be the guy that screwed up,” he said. However, Brady’s dedication and determination allowed him to become one of the group’s most memorable members. His daughter, Katie, currently plays in The Twin Cities Metro Pipe Band (MN), keeping the tradition alive.
Despite the unappetizing weather of 30-degree temperature before the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, Omaha Pipes and Drums Band refused to miss their chance to showcase their talent. Split into two groups, the band made a total of 28 stops, each group changing locations every 20 minutes, leaving the audience in high spirits.
Founded in 1970, the Omaha pipe band was created by former Canadian Cameron Highlander Cadet Tony Smith, targeting individuals from all walks of life, letting the passion drive the motivation. The band has always remained dedicated to teaching the pipes and drums for free. Smith recruited George Lynch, who alongside his wife, Pride – hailing from a band musical background – became an essential asset to the success of the group as a drummer and a seamstress. Lynch accepted Smith’s invitation to join the organization after seeing an advertisement in the paper.
In the late Seventies and early Eighties, the Omaha pipe band gained more visibility and recruited more members, which included the acquisition of a solid, high school drum core. Further success involved a group of drummers eager to learn the unique, Highlander drumming style or Ceòl Mòr.
The Omaha Pipes and Drums, the VFW in Florence, Creighton Prep, and Barrett’s Barley Corn are some of the locations where the group has practiced over the years. However, since two decades ago, the band has been practicing and conducting lessons weekly at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church off 84th and Pacific, offering an annual concert in exchange for rent.
According to Brady, to start learning to play the bagpipes, a practice chanter that sells for less than $100 is a good start. The instrument is significantly quieter than a set of pipes and takes less energy. With due diligence, students can learn some of the simpler tunes in just 3-6 months. In contrast, to learn to play drums, learners should pick up sticks and a practice pad. The Omaha Pipes and Drums aspire to train new members and wish for them to succeed.
The organization practices and gives lessons every Saturday morning, but for individuals who cannot make that schedule, the group can accommodate other times. To become a member, one can visit their website, omahapipesanddrums.org.
The Omaha Pipes and Drums Band is a true testament to how passion defies odds. The band has managed to remain steadfast despite the challenges, providing aspiring musicians of every background the opportunity to learn and play the bagpipes and drums for free. Their vision holds true, as they continue to teach and perform both locally and globally.