If the sun shines, pipers play

The sound in the air Sunday might have been that of an approaching army outside Casey's Red Apple grocery store.

It wasn't, but what was there was almost as out of place. About a dozen bagpipers and a handful of drummers were out under the sun, playing tunes like "Minstrel Boy" and "Wearin' of the Green" and distracting almost everyone in earshot.

And the way the sound of a bagpipe carries, "within earshot" went a long distance.

The impromptu practice concert was unscheduled and unplanned, as several others have been this spring. Two bagpipe bands -- one from Seattle and one based on South Whidbey -- have taken to practicing outside the Tartan Thistle this year, a Bayview-area business that sells all things Scottish. Drawn there because one of the business' owners, Angus MacDonald, plays for both the Washington Scottish Bagpipe Band and the Whidbey Island Pipe Band, the bands are making bagpipe music more familiar to island residents.

Practicing for a summer of competition at Scottish Highland Games around the state, the bands got more public playing time in on South Whidbey during these weekend sessions than they have in recent years. Both will compete at the island's Highland Games at the Greenbank Farm on Aug. 10, but that will be about it for public appearances. The Washington Scottish Pipe Band, which is based in Seattle, probably won't be back on the island any time soon -- they normally practice at Shorecrest High School -- while the Whidbey group will do most of its competing and its paying gigs off island.

But when it's practice time and the sun is shining, South Whidbey's pipers almost expect at least a few onlookers.

"You can't practice anywhere without being tracked down," said Mary Chapman, a member of the Whidbey Island Pipe band.

Not surprising. The sound of the bagpipes carries unlike almost any other instrument. Inside the tight circle of bagpipers playing at the Tartan Thistle Sunday, the music was deafening. Some players even practiced with earplugs.

Chapman said that may work for some pipers, but said it would destroy the experience for her.

"It's a real neat feeling to be inside the band when it's playing," she said.

Or outside for that matter. South Whidbey residents who frequent the parking lot around the Red Apple should get another chance for the experience. MacDonald said he expects the Whidbey Island band to make at least a few more unannounced appearances at the Tartan Thistle this summer.

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