Bagpipes: A Rich Highland Tradition

 Bagpipes are an integral part of Highland culture. Sure, we may often find ourselves scoffing at their importance every once in a while. But in reality, these pipers are the heart of Highland High School. These students work hard day in and day out to bring out the essence of what it means to be a Scotsmen. Love it or hate it, the warning bell that plays “Scotland the Brave” every morning is here to stay and we’ve gone to take a closer look into its meaning and impact today. 

The Highland bagpipe and drumline team!

Bagpipes have maintained a presence on Highland grounds as far back as the school itself has been around. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm, it has also taken a hefty toll on the number of pipers on campus. Yes, even now, the aftermath of the pandemic still lingers on our school grounds and is very much felt in certain communities that once thrived. In 2021, bagpipes – usually an 8th-period class – took a different approach as a 0-period. Athan Matthews recalls the drastic turning point this was for pipes as they “died off” in this period when not much was done. 

Slowly, bagpipes are rebuilding themselves and their numbers. But members do not expect this to be an easy path to growth and normalcy.

Nearly everyone on the bagpipe team is also part of the regular marching band, which means that during performances and football games, they are expected to multitask. You can usually spot a piper half-dressed in their piping uniform and band uniform for this very reason. Half of the drummers and pipers on the team are seniors, while the other half is composed of two juniors and two freshmen. 

Lestat W. (9th grade, 1st-year piper) “Bagpipes Yeahhh”

Once a one-hour class, the pipes took a great cut in currently meeting four times a week for a mere 45 minutes each day. However, they still make the best out of the time they are given. Most of all, it seems that the adults instill and foster hope and cheer in these students each and every single day. 

Marjorie, a Highland alumni from the class of 2019, plays an integral role in aiding the bagpipe team as much as she can. She reflects on how populated the bagpipe team was during her time, and how she wants to give back to its revitalization as much as possible. She tells us that she would do this work entirely without compensation if she could.

Mr. T has also made significant contributions to the success of the bagpipe team. All of the students collectively agree that he has taken initiative like no other; he has poured his all entirely into supporting and providing a meaningful experience to the bagpipers. He has gone so far as to completely teach himself how to play the bagpipe in order to relay the information to the 8th period. While initially only a drummer, Mr. T has become versatile and useful to the Highland Pipes.

Aaron P. (10th grade, 1st-year piper) “Bagpipes are cool, if you don’t believe so, you can move schools!”

Being the only Southern Californian public school that offers courses in Bagpipes, Highland stands out. In California as a whole, Highland is 1 in 4 schools that teaches bagpipes – and of the others, two are private institutions, and one is located far up North. And, did you know that any student not in our school zone is automatically enrolled if they want to join bagpipes?! Quite a shocker! This just goes to show how seriously Highland takes its piping team.

Sylvia C. (9th grade, 1st-year piper) “Scotland Forever”

In the Bagpipe team, there is immense hope for the future based off of the deeply rich history they are founded upon. Only a few years ago, the team played gigs at elementary schools like Fletcher. Too, they boast once having KORN’s Jonathan Davis on the bagpipe team during his time at Highland High School.

He was a piper”

As for tunes, the Highland Bagpipe team is notorious for playing “Scotland the Brave” – at every football game, at every graduation, and at every chance they get, this is the song you’ll hear. “Amazing Grace” is another hymn that pipers are taught. It is said that this is not only a solid and historic melody, but that it is the secret bagpiper “moneymaker” At any funeral, sermon, or other formal occasions, it seems that bagpipers are in high demand for high pay to play this song. 

Angela S. (11th grade, 1st-year piper) “Big kilt fan”

Angela told us that one of the coolest things about pipes is being able to look back at all the notes left by pipers before them in the uniform room. The papers are notably worn — they’re cream-colored or yellowed. They say that this only adds to the interestingness of the notes left by Highland pipers past.

We were also told a superstition held amongst the pipers. Whenever they go out to play on the football field, the football team is usually met with good luck and a win… could it be coincidental, or the real deal?

The drumline compliments bagpipes — here, drummers are posed a la mode Weezer.
Athan Matthews (12th grade, 4-year drummer/piper) “If they can’t hear it, they’re not supposed to hear it. It’s not for them if they can’t understand it.”
Andrew N. (11th grade, 1st year with pipes) “He’s live messaging the loss of his drum chasity”
Nate A. (12th grade, 1st-year drummer for pipes) “I did my time and I want out”
Carlos C. (12th grade, 1st-year drummer for pipes)

The Highland Bagpipe team draws upon a timeline of history like no other campus activity. Even in the roughened shape they find themselves in, Bagpipers still see hope and immense potential in thriving once more. The team is always looking for new bagpipe recruits to act as further links in the chain of history only the Scotsmen can boast. Truly, Highland is set apart from the rest in this regard. It’s an opportunity you won’t easily find elsewhere, so let’s appreciate this uniquely interesting aspect of Highland that makes this school our own!

If you want to learn more about how to be involved in bagpipes as a fun 8th period, please do not hesitate to contact Mr. T in the band room, located in 8D, or any of these very friendly and welcoming pipers!

Valerie Ruiz, photographer for this article

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