by Paul Hickey
The Pacific Northwest Northumbrian Piping Group has been meeting monthly since 1998 near Tacoma, located in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. Dedicated members travel significant distances to attend the sessions. Gail Gibbard, for example, drives 175 miles one way from Portland, Oregon. Every few months, Bob McFarland either drives his car or takes a plane 500 miles one way from Boise, Idaho. John Dally takes a ferry boat from Vashon Island, and has to time his session departure to not miss the last boat back to the island. Several pipers live reasonably close and can drive the distance from their homes to the session in about one hour or less. On occasion, we’ve been honored to have guests from other countries join us – such as Ian and Hilary Richardson from England.
Once a year we hold a weekend workshop that draws pipers from distant parts of the USA and Canada. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have had such excellent instructors as Pauline Cato, Andy May, Rob Say, Ian Lawther, and Dick Hensold to unlock the mysteries of Northumbrian piping for those of us trying to master the instrument far from the tradition’s cradle.
In addition to monthly sessions, we occasionally perform in public. We typically play at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle during the last weekend in May. Shortly after last year’s performance we found a video of us piping at the festival on YouTube. We held our July 2013 session in a vendor booth at the Tacoma Highland Games. The music and instruments attracted quite a bit of attention as few people were familiar with the sweet sound of the Northumbrian smallpipes. We’ve been invited back to perform on stage at the 2014 games in June.
We held our August 2013 session at Point Defiance Park, a 284 hectare city park in the north end of Tacoma overlooking Puget Sound. The sounds of the pipes drew curious onlookers to our picnic site to listen, watch, and inquire about the instrument and our small group.
A couple years ago we began to incorporate technology into our sessions and annual weekend workshops. We now use a laptop computer and projector to display tunes on a large screen, and with the increasing costs to bring instructors from England, we’ve begun discussing the logistics of testing Skype technology to virtually transport an instructor to a future weekend workshop. If anyone is interested in collaborating with us on this project we would enjoy hearing from you.
We also have a Facebook presence in the form of a group page, which you can access by searching for Pacific Northwest Northumbrian Smallpipers. Although there is potential for the group to use the site for discussion, we use it almost exclusively as a bulletin board for our events.
In 2014 we’ve begun our sixteenth year of monthly gatherings to play tunes and share laughs. And when the rains finally subside and the weather begins to warm up we plan to once again take our instruments and music outside into public venues to pipe traditional tunes from northeast England.