Imagine you’re a freshman in high school. It’s a few weeks in to the new year and you’re at a brand new school where you don’t really know anyone. Like most 14 year olds, you’re not particularly independent (yet), and you’re more comfortable doing things with groups of friends. But you also really want to join the bagpipes band to play the one instrument that totally intrigues you, and the only thing holding you back is a nagging fear of being viewed as “lame.” So what do you do? If you’re Paige Gartelmann you take the advice of a classmate and go for it, a decision that transformed this young woman’s entire high school experience and changed her life.
The Bagpipe, known most commonly as Scotland’s national instrument and the curious-looking source of the haunting sound you hear at almost every major civic parade or memorial, has deeps roots in antiquity with origins that can be traced back to the early civilizations of the Middle East. So when you think of modern, American high school instrument options, it’s not really the first that comes to mind… unless, of course, you’re Paige Gartelmann.
“Hearing bagpipes from the audience is one thing, but actually playing them is a whole different experience.”
Paige, who can play a number of musical instruments, was first drawn to the drone of the aerophone well over a year before her freshman year at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, NY. “I was at a local St. Patrick’s Day Parade with my entire family when we heard the Saint Anthony’s Bagpipes marching down the street,” she told WYSK. “All of my cousins know how much I love to play music, so they mentioned that I should consider joining. That got me thinking about whether I should or should not.”
But thinking and doing were two very different things once Paige finally got to high school. “I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone who was signing up for bagpipes and I just didn’t want to do it alone.” She added, “I was worried about what others might think – whether it was lame or not.”
With her parents’ encouragement, and the enthusiastic urging of her orchestra stand partner, who was also a member of the bagpipes band and raved about it, Paige got the final push she needed. “I thought to myself that I shouldn’t care what others would think. If it would make my high school experience better and I would have fun, then that was all that mattered.”
After a lot of initial, methodical practice to get the required breathing and fingerings down, Paige has been playing her heart out over the last four years on her 4 pound instrument (bagpipes range in weight from 3-8 pounds depending on what they are made out of). “I would definitely say that this might be the hardest instrument that I know how to play because it really involves your entire body.”
Which brings us to the prevailing idea that bagpipes are still guy-centric, a myth Paige was quick to bust. “There are plenty of women that play the bagpipes. Being a part of the band at school, we have played with many other bands and there have been many women in those groups,” she shared. “Men may be more commonly associated with this instrument, but more and more women are learning how to play. I think most people also think that you have to be sort of big and buff to play and to be able to keep the music going, but it is just a matter of breathing, not how large you are.”
Between the total body workout and discipline bagpipes take to master, Paige has a blast playing and is enamored with the power they possess. “I love that they can be used for parades or at happy occasions, yet they also have a very emotional and touching quality to them.”
And it’s what bagpipes have done for Paige personally that makes this instrument even more magical; she’s met some incredible people, developed lasting friendships, and has done some extraordinary things that she otherwise wouldn’t have. “How many people can say that they have played for astronauts or have marched down the streets of NYC on St. Patrick’s Day playing an instrument they love?” She continued, “And to think I almost missed out on this opportunity all because I didn’t have enough courage to actually sign up.”
Learning from her own experience, Paige, now a high school senior, has some sage advice for other young women who might find themselves in a similar type of situation. “I would tell them that you shouldn’t ever let anything, especially what others think of you get in the way of doing something that you truly want to do.”
So what’s next for Paige, who spends her bagpipes downtime reading and being outdoors (she golfs, skiis, snowboards, hikes, and cycles). “I hope to go to Manhattan College and major in Applied Mathematics and be a part of their bagpipe band.” She tells us she couldn’t see herself going to a school where there were no bagpipes. “It has become such a big part of my life that I wouldn’t be the same without being in a band.”
As for her dream bagpiping gig? Paige is very clear on that. “I would one hundred percent, hands down love to play in Scotland with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. They are incredible and they play a ton of modern music like ‘Wake Me Up’ by Avicii on the bagpipes and they always seem to be having a ton of fun on stage.”