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Chino Valley Review | Chino Valley, Arizona

home : features : features April 24, 2015

10/2/2013 8:55:00 AM
Bagpiper loves 'sound of defiance'
Russ Miller
Russ Miller
Courtesy PhotoRuss Miller took up the bagpipes at age 55.
Courtesy Photo
Russ Miller took up the bagpipes at age 55.

Diane DeHamer
Feature Writer

About 35 years ago Chino Valley resident Russ Miller and his wife, Jan, were at a Rose Bowl parade when for the first time he heard live pipes and drums.

"I felt like I had been hooked up to electricity! My first emotional response was I wanted to fight, which is so out of my character, but I knew there was some connection there," Russ recalled.

Maybe because Russ is of Scotch/Irish descent, but from that day on he always had bagpipes in the back of his mind.

"The trigger was the Highland games about six years ago, and while attending, my wife told me to check into bagpipe lessons. So at the age of 55 I started taking lessons," said Russ.

"You start with a chanter, to not only build up your wind endurance, but learn the fingering, as it is the same as the pipes. If you don't get proficient at the fingering and embellishments on the chanter, you'll never master the pipes. It took me about six months on the chanter," Russ explained.

Russ is a great example that you are never too old to follow your dreams and learn new things, even an instrument as difficult as the bagpipes.

"When you finally get on the pipes, it is like learning a whole new instrument all over again. You aren't really playing one instrument, it's a cluster, and actually four reeded instruments," said Russ.

"A good set of pipes will run at least $1,000, and some much more, and these are made of African Blackwood or Cocobolo wood. Some imitations are made of rosewood, but they sound pretty awful. Playing on quality pipes makes a huge difference in the sound," he added.

Russ played his first tune on the pipes at a 9/11 ceremony in Prescott Valley. He now plays with the Southwest Skye Pipes and Drums Band at weddings, Highland games, and parades throughout Arizona and New Mexico.

Russ said it took him nine months to get the "Miller" black and white tartan which is only made in Scotland. His kilts all were made just for him, including the band kilt, simply because it's supposed to hang and move correctly and every individual is different.

"Bagpiping is the only musical pursuit that requires a dress code. You can't dress in a shirt and Levi's and go a-piping, you must wear a kilt," said Russ.

He thoroughly enjoys playing the bagpipes, whatever the occasion.

"One of the things I love about playing is that I feel I'm carrying on a tradition. In the parades, when we strike in, there is more exaltation and excitement from the crowd than anyone else in the parade. I think it's because we're Americans and we're in love with individuality, that we naturally respond to defiance, and I think bagpipes (called the War Pipes) are the sound of defiance," Russ said.

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