Mile High Pipes and Drums plays at the Centennial Memorial Day observance at the Citizens Cemetery in Prescott in May 2012. The group is looking for some high school or college age people who want to learn to play the pipes or drums. Video by Heidi Dahms Foster.
Central Yavapai Fire Marshall Rick Chase, left, learned to play the bagpipes after his stepfather, Don Mansfield, right, gave him his old set. The two, shown here after playing at a Memorial Day observance in May, now play together in the Mile High Pipes and Drums.
TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster
Heidi Dahms-Foster Special to the Tribune
If you enjoy music, history and pageantry, and want to learn something new, the Mile High Pipes and Drums may have just what you're looking for.
Group leader and bagpiper Don Mansfield, a retired police officer, listened to and was moved by bagpipers he had heard at funerals and other solemn occasions. After he retired, he moved to Idaho, and with five other officers, learned to play.
Three years ago, Central Yavapai Fire Marshall Rick Chase, Mansfield's stepson, said he'd like to learn to play.
Mansfield sent Chase his pipes, and purchased a new set for himself. Chase took lessons and with CYFD firefighter/engineer Jim Bushman, started playing. When Mansfield moved to Prescott a year ago, he helped to form Mile High Pipes and Drums.
"Since I've been here, I've had the honor to play for most of the honor guards in the area," he said. "Central Yavapai Fire District has an honor guard - their pipers are our pipers."
CYFD Fire Chief Paul Nies also is an accomplished bagpiper who is a member of the group. Two of the group's youngest members recently entered the military - Joe Peck, 18, to the Air Force and Bailey Bernier, 25, to serve in Afghanistan - so they are short experienced players.
While Mansfield admits the bagpipes are a difficult instrument to learn, they are far from impossible. Anyone who is willing to put the time and commitment into practice can attain at least a workable proficiency and enjoyment, he said.
"I tell all our new students that it's like golf. You'll probably never be a Tiger Woods, but it's up to you. With practice, you can be a good golfer, and it's the same with bagpipes. We brought in six months ago a lady who wanted to play. She is 74 years old. I told her she could expect in six months to be able to play Amazing Grace, and she can."
In fact, Blair Griffen was one of the bagpipers who played during a vigil at Prescott Valley's Healing Field before Sept. 11.
Mile High Pipes and Drums has recently welcomed a new member, Jeff Anderson, a Grade 2 piper who teaches pipes and Scottish drums. Pipers are graded from 1 to 4, with Grade 1 pipers considered the best in the world.
"I'm a 4. Rick is probably a 465," he said in a good-natured jibe at his son.
Rick laughingly agreed with Don's assessment, and said he is in awe of Anderson's prowess with the pipes.
"We played Celtic Crossings, and I hadn't heard Jeff play in front of people before. Holy smokes, he is good. I enjoyed just listening to him," he said.
Not only is Anderson a top professional piper, instructor and judge, he has his own company, www.ghillators.com, where he sells the comfortable, lightweight brand of brogue kilt shoes that he and his business partner developed.
With Anderson on board, Mansfield said, the group would like to draw some high school students and teach them to play pipes and drums.
While Anderson will instruct students in the instruments, Mansfield finds great pleasure in sharing the history in schools and other places, especially because many people are surprised that the bagpipes did not originate in Scotland, but rather in Rome.
"They go back 4,000 years. People think of bagpipes as traditionally Scottish, but the Roman army brought them to the Europeans, and the Spanish brought them to Ireland. They had them for 200 years before the Scots. But the Scots made the pipes their nation's instrument," he said.
Mansfield said Mile High Pipes and Drums depends on community support, especially if the group hopes to bring in and instruct younger players.
"Bagpipe bands can't survive without money," he said. "A set of pipes averages $1,200, and a kilt is $400-$600. If you get the total outfit, ii can be $1,000. That's why we need money to help people who can't afford this and to help young people along and get them outfitted."
Mile High Pipes and Drums never charges to play if the event involves police, fire or military, Mansfield said. He said he appreciates being able to touch people with the tradition and beauty of the instrument.
"The first time you play Amazing Grace at a funeral and see the tears, you know why you became a piper. People are thankful," he said.
Mile High Pipes and Drums meets every Saturday at the Celtic Crossings Pub/Restaurant in Prescott Gateway Mall. Those who are interested in the bagpipes or Scottish drums or the tradition of the instruments may call Don Mansfield at 928-277-1408.