When you join the Schenectady Pipe Band, according to East Berne’s Lou Schenk, it’s kind of like being adopted into another family.
“There’s a lot of family, a lot of fellowship, and that’s pretty much our reward for getting involved,” said Schenck, who’s been with the group for more than 25 years. “We all enjoy playing music, and we enjoy each other. Everybody really seems to get along.”
That’s good because 2017 is going to be a big year for the Schenectady Pipe Band. Sunday at Proctors’ GE Theatre, the group will record a centennial CD in front of a live audience at 3 p.m., to help celebrate its 100th year. And, in August of 2017, the Schenectady Pipe Band will head to Glasgow, Scotland to compete in the World Bagpipe Championships. It will be the first overseas trip for the group since 1997.
‘Sounds of a Century’
WHAT: A live performance by the Schenectady Pipe Band
WHERE: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.schenectadypipeband.com
“I would say we usually perform between 25 to 30 times a year, but in 2017 we’re putting together a more aggressive schedule,” said Schenck, who serves as the band manager. “We’re competing in the World Championships, and that’s going to be fun. We leave on Aug. 3 and return on the 20th, and it’s something we’re all looking forward to.”
The Schenectady Pipe Band has about 45 members, and usually use about 30 of them for a performance. Not all of the band members are of Scottish descent.
“I’m actually Dutch, German and English, and my wife’s mother was a war bride who came to this country,” said Schenck. “We do recruit new members but we don’t do a lot of arm-twisting. It’s all word-of-mouth. We have open house events, we print up little pamphlets so people hear about us. Many of the people join because they want to learn how to play bagpipes, and there’s no membership fee or. It takes a couple of years to really learn how to play the bagpipes, but after a lot of practice they can start playing with the band.”
On the drums
The Schenectady Pipe Band also uses drummers.
“We have three types of drummers,” said Schenck. “The largest are the snare drums, which we call side drummers, and there’s also tenor drummers, they’re a little softer, and finally one bass drummer. There’s only one of him because he’s the guy who keeps everybody together.”
The Schenectady Pipe Band was formed in 1917 with the help of the General Electric Company and a local Scottish organization.
“Many of the members of Clan MacRae worked at GE and they wanted to start a pipe band,” said Bill Munro, a long-time member and the group’s unofficial historian. “They told them if they could find a qualified instructor and bagpipe player to teach and lead the band, then they would provide a job for him at GE. The found a stonecutter in Vermont named Isaac Riddell, an Irish immigrant, and he took the job and started the band.”
Riddell had been a piper in the 92nd Regiment Gordon Highlanders in Aberdeen, Scotland, before coming to the U.S. Soon after he arrived at GE and formed the Schenectady Pipe Band, the group was playing all over the East Coast in support of Liberty Bond Drives to raise funds for the U.S. war effort during World War I. The band went dormant for two years because many members were in the Army fighting in Europe before regrouping in 1920.