Arts & Entertainment

Pipes are his calling

Learning to play the bagpipes is no easy task. You have to build up enough wind power to launch the Goodyear blimp.

That kind of lung mastery, however, is only necessary when performing more passionate Celtic tunes.

Though most bagpipers are men, the number of women being added to the fold is increasing, as well as a wave of youngsters who you'd think would be more interested in playing a rockin' guitar than a mournful bagpipe.

Such is the case with the Tri-City-based Desert Thistle Pipe Band, which will hold its annual concert March 7 in the auditorium at Chief Joseph Middle School in Richland.

Jarrett Rice, 17, is one of four young people who perform with the pipe band. The other Tri-City-area kids in the band are drummer Markus Berghofer, 15, piper Dan Berghofer, 16, and the youngest in the group, 12-year-old drummer Jamie Stewart.

Rice has been playing the Scottish instrument since he was 13.

"What I remember the most (as a kid) was my dad and I would sit in the kitchen on Saturday mornings and listen to Celtic and bagpipe music cranked up really loud," Rice said.

That memory stirred a deep appreciation for the sound of bagpipes, and his fascination eventually led him to the Desert Thistle band.

"The whole thing (surrounding the bagpipes) was a big mystery," he said. "I wondered how do you get music out of that instrument? How do you play the different notes? Where do you start? The most difficult thing about learning to play (the bagpipe) is the steady blowing."

But conquer the breathing technique he did, as well as how all the notes are played. But when he first joined the Desert Thistle Band he felt a little out of place with "all the oldsters."

"For a while it was a little difficult. I didn't know them and they didn't know me," Rice said. "Quite a few people who want to learn the bagpipes don't stick with it, so I guess (the band members) thought I would be gone in a couple weeks."

But Rice endured and proved his worth, just as the other youngsters in the pipe band have done.

Besides performing several gigs around the Northwest with the Desert Thistle Pipe Band, Rice also performs a few solo gigs throughout the year at weddings or funerals.

"Being able to attend the School of Piping every summer in Coeur D'Alene has been a great way to get to know everyone in my band as well as people from other pipe bands," Rice said.

Rice, who is in the Running Start program at Columbia Basin College, discovered that his involvement with the older members of the pipe band gave him a sense of family.

The concert also features a few guest performers, including the Rose and Thistle Celtic Trio from Portland, the Tri-City-based Academy of Scottish Dancers and An Daire Academy of Irish Dancers.

Tickets to the show are $10 general admission or $6 for seniors and kids 12 and younger. Tickets are available at the door or in advance at Tri-City area Bookworm stores.

Proceeds from the event helps off set the band's travel costs to various events as well as outfit the group in new kilts.

"We finally purchased new kilts for the band," said piper Bill McKay. "Years of saving money (to the tune of $14,000) paid off to outfit the band in new kilts."

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;