Paighton Bings (left) and Declan Earnshaw are both learning the bagpipes thanks to a donation from Brian Garland of Cariboo GM, represented in the picture by Cathy Poole, his fleet manager. Because of the funds, Joe Bazan and John Visentin are able to visit schools and introduce piping to students.

Williams Lake youth take up bagpipes

Older pipers pass on knowledge of the Scottish instument

Two Williams Lake youth have taken up an unconventional instrument of choice: the bagpipe.

Paighton Bings, 12, and Declan Earnshaw, 10, are well on their way to learning the instrument and have no plans of stopping soon.

Both first picked up the pipes during a visit to their respective schools by members of the Williams Lake Pipe Band, who have been touring schools in the past several years as part of an effort to increase interest in the Scottish instrument.

Pipers first learn to play on what is called a “chanter” — a small oboe-like instrument that teaches fingering and breathing. From there pipers then learn to play with a reed, and then finally graduate onto the full pipes — the image most of us have in our head as the “bagpipes.”

Bings and Earnshaw both started on the practice chanters, which were among approximately 20 purchased by the pipe band thanks to a donation from Brian Garland of Cariboo GM.

Once bagpipe teachers Joe Bazan and John Visentin visit the schools, they spend a few weeks each doing presentations and working with students who show an interest.

Bings and Earnshaw both picked up the pipes there, and then started taking after school lessons.

Paighton Bings, 12, started learning the bagpipes two years ago. She’s set to play with the Williams Lake Pipe Band at Robbie Burns Night this Saturday.

“It just became really fun to do,” says Bings, who has graduated onto the full bagpipes.

“It’s very interesting to learn about the culture, all the notes, how it sounds different and all the items that you have to use for bagpipes,” she says.

As for Earnshaw:

“I kind of like that it is loud.”

While he’s been banished into practicing outdoors, only, he says his family likes that he’s learning, particularly because of his Scottish roots.

“My granddad is Scottish and he has a Scottish accent,” says Earnshaw. “He thinks it is really cool that I learned it this young.”

Still, learning the pipes is no easy task. Pipes require regular maintenance and Bings practices daily, and, in the lead up to Robbie Burns Night at the Legion on Jan. 20, has been taking lessons three times a week.

Read more: Haggis to top menu at annual Robbie Burns Night

“The thing I always tell people when they ask me, is it hard to play the bagpipes is, you know you put 20 minutes into anything you’re going to get 20 minutes worth out,” says her teacher Visentin. “Paighton quickly realized you have to practice once a day. If you don’t practice once a day you lose the umbrage on the muscles around your lips. You don’t have the stamina to keep it in.”

Playing the bagpipes is a workout, he says.

“You blow, but while you are taking a breath you subsidize the supplement by squeezing the bag.”

Bings says the first time she tried the full instrument, she wasn’t able to make a sound come out.

Now, however, she’s started playing with the Williams Lake Pipe Band.

As the youngest member, she says it was a little intimidating at first, but soon got comfortable.

“It’s pretty great. They are pretty funny and it is not just quiet all the time. We do interesting things and it’s not boring one bit. I find that the hour or hours go by really fast.”

She’ll be playing — in full uniform — with the pipe band this Saturday, Jan. 20 for Robbie Burns Night, the annual celebration of the Scottish poet.

The tradition behind the pipes, where they were used on battlefields to inspire troops, also inspires Bings.

“When you hear it you feel very proud for some reason when you are playing,” she says. “Sometimes I like to walk around and I feel like marching.”

Both of the young pipers say they enjoy playing the bagpipes — in part because they’re so different from what they’ve done before.

“I like it because it’s challenging,” says Earnshaw. “You finish a song and go onto the next.”

“It’s just different. It’s special,” says Bings. “You should really try it.”


Declan Earnshaw, 10, plays a tune on his practice chanter — the first step in learning the complicated instrument.

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