On Thursday evenings, the "pipes are callin' " within earshot of theSt. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City. The pied pipers of theparking lot -- actually members of the Dunloggin Pipes and Drums Scottish band -- practice their March Strathspey Reel and other medleys,mostly outdoors, where the sounds from their bagpipes and drums haveplenty of room to roam.
Lured from nearby Frederick Road one recent summer evening was motorist Ken Friedman, whose ears became "hooked" on the Scottish classics as he followed the musical strains into the parking lot to look and listen.
"I have always loved bagpipes; it's a very emotional sound," saidthe Ellicott City resident. With a promise to return the following Thursday so he could listen more leisurely, Friedman got into his car where his 4-year-old daughter and melting ice cream cones awaited him.
The band members continued to inflate lungs and pound drums as they rehearsed for their competition Saturday, the 33rd annual Ligoniere Highland Games in Ligoniere, Pa. It is one of the group's five yearly competitions.
"We try to get players into the group who strivetheir very best to move on," said Bob Mitchell, founder of the 13-year-old band.
"The group" consists of 19 people -- 12 pipers, six drummers and one drum major -- ages 10 to 50. Mitchell encourages children 10 and up to join because, "we are a family-oriented band," where spouses and siblings travel along to various band functions. The group won every contest they entered last year.
This season, however, Mitchell says the band has been less fortunate because competition was tougher and the group lost a few of its members to more skilled bands.
But competing is only a third of the group's activities.
"I started the band so that we would play in parades and do it well,"Mitchell said. The 40-year-old special education teacher who works in Montgomery County believes educating the public about what a pipe and drum band can sound like is important. "Not all pipe bands sound alike," he said.
The non-profit band performs five concerts a year,in Maryland and as far away as Canada. They take another 25 jobs a year,
performing at the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Harford County, the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, Anne Arundel County, weddings, church ceremonies and even graduation exercises at the American University in Washington. They charge $550 for a performance.
Such activities gross about $20,000, which pays for the group's imported Red Ramsey Scottish tartans.
"There's no significance in the name of the tartans for our group," says Mitchell. The vibrant red and black plaid "was chosen because it looks good."
Each part of theuniform carries a hefty price: kilts cost $400 a piece, jackets $200, leather pocketbooks called sporans $100; belts with buckles $100, and accessories called Glen Garrys, which adorn the Scottish caps, $50. The band also provides the drums. Members pay for their own pipes -- a starter set can cost $1,700.
Many bands, says Mitchell, emphasize their Scottish heritage. "This band is different. Everyone is American and we are focusing on three different functions -- competitions, concerts and parades. Scottish bands will just compete . . . we want to provide Scottish music for a wide variety of people."
Mitchell also encourages group members to teach others to play. He started the band with a group of his own students.
"There is a lot of interest (in bagpipe bands) in Columbia," he said. The Dunloggin group isone of eight or nine in the Baltimore-Washington area, Mitchell says.
His father's involvement in a pipe and drum band spurred Mitchell to pick up the pipes.
"I took lessons when I was 12- or 13 years-old on a weekly basis; it was not difficult but it takes patience and practice," he said.
Jason Barth, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has played pipes with the group for three years.
"Every free moment that I have, I will practice," he said.
The former drummer and drum major played the Irish penny whistle as a member of a Scottish re-enactment group, and was encouraged by members to "give pipes a try." He has been playing ever since.
An Ellicott City resident who graduated from Glenelg High School in June, Barth also plays solo, last year placing 10th out of 30musicians in an East Coast competition.
Between his full-time andpart-time jobs, Barth says, "I sometimes practice around 11 p.m. with my parents beating their heads against the wall." Luckily, he says,he lives on a farm out of earshot of neighbors.
Another member ofthe group, David Ennis, 43, has been playing side drum with the Dunloggin players for six years. Ennis, a health care administrator for the Oakview Treatment Center in Ellicott City, became interested in the group as a result of his daughter's involvement in Scottish dancing.
"I got to meet a lot of members of the band who also have children who are Scottish dancers," he said. His daughter, Lee, 18, is no longer interested in dancing. But Ennis' enthusiasm for the side drum has never waned.
A former member of the North Carolina State Pipe and Drum Corps, Jay Barringer, has been part of the Dunloggin band for two years. The 27-year-old computer analyst, who works for the Department of Defense at Fort Meade, has played pipes for eight years. After "one day in the marching band," he was encouraged to try the pipeand drum corps in college. Later he was steered to the Dunloggin group by the pipe major at college, a friend of Bob Mitchell.
Becausehe lives in a town house, Barringer must be discriminating about where he practices.
"I try to go out into the woods; I have to be genteel about it," he laughed. Barringer said that people are often curious and will ask him questions like "How much air does it take?"
"I answer them by saying, 'It takes all of the air I can put out from my two lungs,'" he said.
Nonetheless, Barringer and the other members keep practicing.
"Our overall goal is to perform Scottish music at a high level," said Bob Mitchell. "It's a lot of work for a three-and-one-half minute competition . . . Good students make good teachers who then spread it on."