Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 1, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
KHNL weather reporter Erin Brown is
pursuing her attraction to the bagpipes.

Bagpipe lovers
gather this weekend

By Burl Burlingame


A man went on vacation to a beautiful, remote island. He noticed, as he stepped off the boat, drums were beating in the background. In fact, drums beat constantly in the background no matter where he went, no matter what he did.

After a couple of days, the vacationer had had enough. "When do the drums stop?" he asked a native, but the native cried out in terror and ran away. That's odd, thought the man, so he asked the same question of another native, but this fellow also was too horrified to speak.

Finally, the vacationer grabbed another native and wouldn't let him go. "What's with the drums?" he asked. "When do they stop?"

"We don't want them to stop. Please don't ask them to stop," begged the native.

"Why not?"

"Because, once the drums stop, the bagpipes begin!"


Love 'em or hate 'em, bagpipes stake no middle ground, take no prisoners. The ancient instrument, played by squeezing a kind of floppy leather football under your arm, so the air rushes out a series of "drone" pipes while the melody is played on a pennywhistle-like chanter, isn't much on subtlety.

The keening strathspeys, mournful laments and bellowing marches that leap from the instrument seem to echo from the gates of hell itself, or drift eerily over the runic landscape of Celtic memory -- lochs, mountains, fog, blood.

No wonder the pipes are the only musical instrument classified as a weapon of war. No wonder Napoleon called the kilted, piping Highlanders arrayed against him at Waterloo the "ladies from hell."

No wonder Erin Brown, otherwise mild-mannered weather reporter at KHNL, loves the pipes. So much so that, near midnight, you can often find her strolling the bleak, nightswept parking lot at the TV station, playing the pipes, the notes carried off in the breeze.

She's been studying the pipes for a couple of years, taking lessons from Larry Coleman, Hawaii's Jedi master of piping. "I know it'll take years before I can get good," she says. "It's not an easy instrument. But I've wanted to play the pipes ever since my dad took us to see the Black Watch when I was a kid."

She gets all big-eyed when recalling how the Black Watch, Britain's legendary Scots regiment and tattoo band, overwhelmed her hometown concert hall with a mighty sound. It penetrated and stuck.

"It was elegant and beautiful and filled with strength and power. To this day, when I hear the pipes, I just gravitate toward them. It can be faint and faraway, and I can even be asleep, but it brings me to right away."

Growing up in Connecticut, however, didn't have a lot of bagpipe-playing opportunities. Her father, who played the piano and sang, once convinced her to take dulcimer lessons instead of bagpipe lessons. The dulcimer, a kind of lap-ukulele, has a pretty, sweet sound. It's a girly instrument.

"I didn't keep up with the dulcimer," Brown said.

After moving to Hawaii, Brown was surprised to hear pipe music in a public park, and ran all over the park trying to find it. No luck. But a few days later, Coleman was a guest at the TV station, and Brown asked him to teach her.

"He's great. We'd sit in the park and he'd get me caught up. The class offered by the Honolulu Celtic Pipes and Drums runs for two years." She's confident enough now to drone along with the band when the HCPD performs at this weekend's Scottish Festival. "The pipes are so loud that if even one person is off, it really stands out. And you have to memorize all the melodies."

Her co-workers have dealt with Brown's passion by tossing her outside the building. How about her significant other?

"Well ... my boyfriend was a little astonished to find out I play bagpipes. But I haven't given him much time to object!"

Hear the pipers

Bullet The event: The 1999 Hawaiian Scottish Festival & Games, with music, food, crafts, games
Bullet The dates: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.Saturday and Sunday
Bullet The place: Kapiolani Park
Bullet Admission: Free
Bullet Call: 235-7605

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