When you think of Maui, it’s a safe bet the first image that springs to mind isn’t bagpipes. In fact, if you were to rattle off the first 100 things you associate with the Valley Isle, Scottish aerophones probably still wouldn’t make the cut.
So it may come as a surprise that Maui is home to a thriving Celtic music outfit, the Isle of Maui Pipe Band, and that world-renowned bagpiper Jack Lee has made numerous appearances on the island and will make another this week in Makawao.
The history of Celtic music in Hawaii actually dates back to the 1800s, when Scottish immigrants brought traditional instruments with them across the Pacific. On the isle pipers’ Web site, credit is given to Agnes Wallace for helping form Hawaii’s first pipe band in the 1960s. Two of her students went on to win a prestigious award on the Mainland and the music’s popularity in the Aloha State proliferated from there.
The history of the Isle of Maui Pipe Band doesn’t go quite as far back. The band credits its genesis to a day in the late ‘90s when longtime piper John Grant was “coaxed out of retirement” and joined forces with a sundry collection of like-minded music-makers to form Maui Celtic Pipes and Drums. Subsequent years saw the arrival of many more diverse and talented players, and in short order the band had attained full-blown legitimacy and a growing following.
At present, the band consists of 14 pipers and seven drummers (“when marching at full strength”), ranging in age from 13 to 67. They tout themselves as the “only pipe band in the world to wear the Hawaiian tartan,” a blue- and green-heavy plaid with a touch of red designed in 1997 by Douglas Herring of Oahu, who won a contest sponsored by the Caledonian Society of Hawaii.
Though not many chart-topping hits feature the bagpipe (and, come to think of it, more should), with its rich, melancholy sound the instrument is a natural for funerals and similarly solemn affairs. The Pipe Band also plays parades and other gigs and conducts workshops. Naturally they’re busy this time of year, as St. Patrick’s Day brings Celtic culture (or at least an Americanized version of it) into popular focus.
Lee, who will join the Pipe Band at the Makawao Union Church, is a luminary in the piping world. His resume is littered with medals and accolades and, as pipe sergeant of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, he has won multiple world championships. Some clips of him in action are available on YouTube (including a 2006 Maui performance). Even if you don’t know a blowpipe from a chanter—and even if bagpipes aren’t your musical cup of tea—it’s impossible not to be impressed by Lee’s skill and precision.
In addition to the Makawao performance, the Pipe band will lend their lungs to the St. Paddy’s Day proceedings at Mulligan’s on the Blue March 17. Check their Web site for more info on upcoming gigs and how you can get involved. Maybe next time you think of Maui, bagpipes won’t be so far from your mind. MTW