Worcester `Kilties' march to authentic Scottish beat.
WORCESTER - David Methven blends into the scenery in his newly established hometown of Plymouth. One might not know by the looks of him that he holds five World Pipe Band Championship titles and has recorded bagpipe music that has reached No. 2 on the Scottish album charts and the top 10 of the American Billboard World Music Charts.
As it turns out, bagpipe music is experiencing something of a renaissance in both his homeland of Scotland and here in the U.S., and Mr. Methven is amplified by the prospect.
"At one time, it was just sort of fading out, and now that's changing," he said.
Each Wednesday evening, he and dozens of other bagpipe players and drummers from all over New England convene in Worcester to practice for their group, the Worcester Kiltie Pipe Band, with Mr. Methven filling the post of pipe major since losing longtime Pipe Major James Kerr, who died last year. The group, having been a staple in the Worcester area since 1916, is often referred to as simply the Kilties.
With a lighthearted sense of humor that betrays his desire to bring the Kilties up the ranks until they claim yet another championship title, Mr. Methven jokes that he is poaching all of the best talent from the area to join up with the band.
Among that talent are a number of veteran bagpipers but also the fresh faces of a handful of youngsters who, according to Mr. Methven, are some of the most promising young pipers he's seen in his 29 years of playing.
"I've taught over 200 students, and she is one of the top three," he said of 14-year-old Kiltie member Maeghan Bielski, whose parents make the hour-plus trip to Worcester each week from Middleboro so that she can practice.
"I started competing when I was 8 years old," said the shy but talented adolescent, whose mother, Diane Wood-Bielski, said that even though she and her husband were both learning at the time and began teaching her daughter on the chanter, a recorder-like instrument that precedes a full set of pipes, it became clear rather quickly that Maeghan showed more promise than they expected and would need a better teacher.
For many, coming to band practice is the best way to learn and grow as a musician, though Mr. Methven teaches at various schools and conservatories, and even via Skype to aspiring pipers across the country.
The band, collectively, has a lofty dream of working its way back to Glasgow, Scotland, for the future championship competition. The Kilties are a Grade 4 band and hope to advance up the rank to Grade 1.
It wouldn't be the first time.
The Kilties were the first pipe band in the United States to rise to international prominence at Grade 1. In 1964, it became the first band from the United States to compete at the World Championships, marking the first time that a pipe band from the United States won a competition in Scotland.
"On Scottish soil, no less," beams Mr. Methven, who dreams of repeating the coup.
Winning competitions would be impossible and unrealistic without the second half of a winning band's equation, the drummers.
The Kilties' drumming section is led by Colum Lundt from Woodstock, Conn., who pulls talent from across New England and New York. Also a Grade 1 musician, he said that drumming in a bagpipe band pulls a number of different drumming styles together, making it an exciting type of music to be involved in. Perhaps that is why people travel so far to be a part of the band.
"I think of it like this: If your child is gifted in gymnastics or a sport like that, you travel as far as you have to in order to find the best coaches," Mr. Lundt said. "We have all the best musicians in the world of bagpipe music, and people are willing to travel to be a part of that."
As the band members work on the harmonies and counterharmonies, on memorizing their music and perfecting their cadence, they all have one ultimate goal in mind and it involves being a champion.
But for some of the younger members, that dream is made clearer by having the mentorship of Mr. Methven and Mr. Lundt. Their definition of a champion is perhaps a little more based in their respect and admiration.
What the ultimate dream? For aspiring bagpiper Tyler Marenga, 15, of Leicester, that question can be easily answered with a quick nod to his pipe major.
"To be at his level," he answered without hesitation.
For more information, visit www.wkpb.org. The band is seeking donations to outfit the members of the Novie Juvenile Band with uniforms and instruments as they seek to represent Worcester at the Grade 3 World Pipe Band Championships in 2014.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/BETTY JENEWIN
CUTLINE: (1) Jim Lundt of Atkinson, N.H. (2) Colum Lundt of Woodstock, Steve Mullaney of Rutland, Joel Monaco of Lunenburg and Brian Griffin of Easthampton play snare drum on practice pads. (3) Greg Markiewicz of Worcester practices on a chanter.