The classic sounds of the Scottish countryside have made their way across the pond into Eastern’s Music department. First-year Lucas Mitsch, the university’s first bagpipe major, has dazzled students and teachers alike with his skilled performances and passion for the unique instrument.
Mitsch said he was first inspired by the incredible sound of the instrument about six years ago, when he saw them on the influential film, “Braveheart,” and heard them on his family trip to Scotland.
“I remember stepping up to one player and the sound just filled the air,” Mitsch said. “I could really feel and hear the sound, and to me, that was just one of the greatest things I had ever heard.”
With his imagination captured and inspiration set, Mitsch headed back to the States with one goal: to produce the very same sounds that inspired and affected him so deeply.
Once home, Mitsch put his plans into action and was soon led to a bagpipe band that met at Valley Forge Military Academy. There, he gradually built his skills and learned the technicalities of the instrument.
Mitsch began as a practice chanter and first learned on a preliminary instrument often described as something similar to a recorder with a reed in it. He learned his fingerings on this practice instrument before receiving his actual set of bagpipes.
With the help of the band and other world-class instructors at various classes and seminars, Mitsch has been working on a full set of bagpipes for the last five years.
Like any other musical instrument, the bagpipes must be practiced every day but the maintenance of this instrument adds an extra component to Mitsch’s everyday practice. This includes securing the joints of the pipes with hemp to keep them movable and flexible or applying a seasoning to his leather bag to keep in the moisture. Needless to say, the maintenance of this instrument is certainly no easy task.
Despite the difficult nature of the instrument, Mitsch has a strong support system from both family and friends. “A lot of people think it’s weird at first, but once they can discern that there’s music being played and it’s not just noise, then they acquire a taste for it,” he said.
With his training and support secured, Mitsch’s development as a bagpipe player continues to flourish. He has performed at events like parades, college convocations and even various Celtic festivals with the VFMA group. As a solo artist, Mitsch has performed for church groups and schools, as well as taught some history about the bagpipes. He can even be found providing music at Eastern’s new Scottish dancing club (see article on page 4).
With all this, Mitsch continues to look to the future. As a music major, he is preparing for his recital at the end of the year with his personal instructor, hired specifically by the university for Mitsch’s needs. He is considering the possibility of forming a Celtic or folk group on campus in the near future.
Mitsch does not necessarily see bagpiping as a fulltime career, but he knows it will always be important to him. “I see it as a very, very important part of my life. I know I’ll take it with me wherever I go and in whatever I do.”