Blowin’ In: Call of the Pipes

Blowin’ In: Call of the Pipes
By Susan Mangan

“The bagpipes – they are screaming and they are sorrowful.
There is a wail in their merriment and cruelty in their triumph.
They rise and fall like a weight swung in the air at the end of a string.”

-Hugh MacDiarmid

From the age of five, Tyler Tagliaferro knew that he wanted to play the bagpipes. Raised by a single mother devoted to her Irish heritage and children, Tyler was led down the avenue Young Tyleron March 17 as an infant in his pram and as a toddler in a wagon.

When he was old enough to march in Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade with his older siblings, he learned fifing fundamentals from Tony Malloy and Angela Myers. As a five-year-old, Tyler proudly sat with his corps of young West-Side Irish American Club fifers in the front pews at St. Colman’s Church.

From the moment the drone of the bagpipes began to resound, and the lone bagpiper started to play “Faith of our Fathers” during the offertory procession, young Tyler realized his destiny. One day, he too wanted to “dress in full uniform and fill the high ceilings of St. Colman’s Church with sound.”

Tyler also wanted to Irish dance with his sister at the Burke School of Irish Dance. Tyler’s mom wanted him to explore both forms of art, but there was not enough time in the day, so Tyler signed up to dance.

Dance or Bagpipes
While he enjoyed his time as a dancer, Tyler never forgot the sound of the pipes. With quick wit (foreshadowing his daytime career as an attorney), Tyler negotiated with his mother: If he earned a first place in Irish dance, could he trade his hardshoes for a set of bagpipes? As any good story goes, he walked away with a blue ribbon, and the rest of the tale would become history.

Tyler’s mother sought out a bagpipe teacher through the West-Side Irish American Club and bought Tyler a practice chanter. This is essentially the nine note “flute” of the instrument. Rather than practice on a full set of bagpipes, the chanter is used both for instruction and practice to learn notes and tunes without the full sound for which the pipes are known. Tyler admitted “his attention soon waned as he wanted to play pipes that were bigger” than his five-year-old frame.

Irish Uilleann Pipes Great Highland Bagpipes
He explained that the pipes most common within Celtic culture are the Irish Uilleann pipes and the Great Highland Bagpipes. Some pipes are smaller and have a lower pitch, such as border pipes. These instruments are mouth or bellow blown and meld well with other traditional instruments such as accordions, fiddles, and harps.
Tyler today
The Uilleann pipes are a bellow blown instrument played whilst the musician is in a seated position, and the instrument itself possesses a range of octaves, as well as the capability for sharps and flats in the key signature. The Great Highland bagpipes are a mouth blown reeded instrument played while the musician is standing stationary or marching. The identifiable background hum of the bagpipes is the result of three drones: one bass and two tenor drones; the previously mentioned chanter is the impetus for the individual notes and resulting tune.

As fate would have it, Tyler began taking lessons again as a third grader when his school hired a music teacher who had a background in bagpipes. While other children were skinning their knees on the playground after school, Tyler began his bagpipe studies in earnest, and soon found himself under the tutelage of Scottish bagpipe maker Jerry Gibson, and later, Barry Conway.

Great Lakes Pipe Band
Tyler studied music theory and learned how to read music. At the age of ten, he finally received his own full-sized set of bagpipes for a Christmas present.
Having grown in his commitment to studying the bagpipes, Tyler was introduced to Michael Crawley of the 87th Cleveland Pipe Band. Within this group of musicians, Tyler learned how to play with drummers and other pipers within an ensemble of traditional Scottish music. At sixteen, Tyler competed on a solo level as well as with the group. With Barry Conway as lead pipe major, and Michael Crawley as the lead drummer, Tyler helped found the Great Lakes Pipe Band. The group participated in competitions held across North America.

Tyler became accomplished in an ancient genre of bagpipe music called Piobaireachd. Interestingly, the tunes can be as brief as five minutes, whereas others may last upwards of thirty minutes. Barry Conway introduced Tyler to Alexander “Sandy” Hain, a specialist in this unique genre of music. This extensive training afforded Tyler the opportunity to compete at the highest amateur solo level, where he earned first place awards in marching and Piobaireachd competitions in the United States and Canada, including a first place at the North American Bagpipe Championship.

Despite all his competitive placements, Tyler’s dream was finally actualized when he was asked to be the solo bagpiper at St. Colman’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass in 2017. Since that time, Tyler graduated from Fordham University with a double major in political science and American studies and went on to complete law school at Case Western Reserve University. Even though Tyler is busy establishing his career as a New York attorney, he finds time to journey back to Cleveland on St. Patrick’s Day to process down the aisle at St. Colman’s as the solo bagpiper.

Arguably, the bagpipes are among the most evocative of traditional instruments. Even Tyler’s favorite set of bagpipes is steeped in history; made by Peter Henderson and honed from African Blackwood with sterling silver and ivory mounts. This instrument was crafted in Scotland in 1949.

History, emotion, nostalgia, and art, the Scottish bagpipes conjure atmosphere and demand attention. Tyler practices his art on the rooftop of his Brooklyn flat and in the greenspace of Central Park. During our interview, he waxed poetic over one memorable occasion during his senior year at Fordham: “The president of the university asked me to play the funeral of a respected alumnus and longtime donor of the university . . . I was the lone bagpiper leading the hearse down 84thstreet and along 5th Avenue . . . in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”  

Tyler has composed original jigs and reels and has even adapted beloved Irish favorites like “Tell Me Ma” to the tune of his pipes. He enjoys performing in Irish pubs both in Cleveland and New York.  As this year’s music coordinator for the Ohio Scottish Games and Celtic Festival held over June 24th and 25th, Tyler will be running stages, performing, and competing with other bagpipers. If you happen to be enjoying a cold pint at a local pub in Cleveland’s West Park or are enjoying a summer sunrise in New York’s Central Park, you may be lucky enough to hear Tyler and the call of his pipes.

*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].

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