How Sweet the Sound: The Stillwater Pipe Band

Pipe Major Scott McKinley

Story by Sam Shook, Photos provided by Stillwater Pipe Band

The sweet, shrill echoes of bagpipes conjure images of days long past, of merriment and celebration. They lift one’s spirits to the green highlands and misty moors of Scotland, to the mountains and flowery meadows. You can hear them played around the world, in Asia, Africa, through the green fields of France, Ireland, and all throughout Europe. Now, you can hear them right here in Stillwater. Since it was founded in 2007, the Stillwater Pipe Band has played the bagpipes for many events, including: St. Patrick’s Day, the Stillwater Arts Festival, weddings, parties, veteran’s events, and more.

I had a chance to sit down with pipe major Scott McKinley and ask him a few questions about their group.

The Stillwater Pipe band. (Left to right) Front Row: Randy Lowery, Ruth Webb, Jack Rawlins. Middle Row: Curtis Burns, Scott McKinley, Scott Wilson. Back Row: Daniel Welkley, Spike Webb.

“It’s neat to see a lone piper playing, but it’s even more fun when you can get five or six together, it really creates a really pretty sound,” he said.

I asked Scott McKinley how he first became involved in playing the bagpipes. He told me how a friend of his, a veteran of World War II, showed McKinley a documentary about pipers, and his interest was piqued. From there, he sought training from several instructors. At 25, he was, at least for pipers, starting at a late age.

“One thing lead to another,” he said, and he ended up finding the Stillwater Pipe Band.

Now, he has been playing with them for six years. The way he sees it, he is continuing a longstanding tradition of history, from the highland clans who used it as a war pipe, to World War II soldiers who fought in Normandy. Throughout his time as a piper, McKinley has had the privilege of meeting some of the most famous pipers around the world.

The Stillwater Pipe Band has a large presence in Stillwater’s community. They have played at schools and other locales. They have even been known to do “pub crawls,” whatever gets people exposed to live bagpipe music, because, according to McKinley, most people have not had the chance to listen to it.

The band marching during the 2010 Stillwater Parade of Lights.

“It’s not something you hear in this part of the world,” said McKinley.

However, not all occasions have been happy. As one might expect, they have played “The Flowers of the Forest” for a number of funerals, including the 2011 memorial service for Cowgirl basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and two OSU Alumni (former State Senator Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula) who lost their lives in a plane crash.

“We’re able to help with the healing process,” McKinley said. “That was awe inspiring to play in front of that many people. It was obviously under circumstances that we wish didn’t happen, but for me personally, that was something. I’d only been playing for six, seven months at the time, so it was a challenge. But I was honored they had me do that.”

I asked if there was anything McKinley wanted to say to the readers, and he told me:

“If you’re interested in hearing the pipes, look us up on Facebook. We’re always looking for more recruits… We need drummers, we need pipers, we’re really trying to grow. You know this band has progressed over the years, to a point where we’re at, but we need more people. Got a really good strong dedicated core, but we’d love to have more people involved. Beyond that, I’d encourage people if you’re interested in pipes, learn more about them. The history is very rich, and goes back hundreds of years. You can go to the Colosseum in Rome and see what your ancestors may have seen, you could even go to Scotland and see what they saw. But with the bagpipes, you get something totally unique. You can hear what they heard… you can hear the same tune your ancestor heard five or six hundred years ago.”

So, if you ever have the opportunity to hear the Stillwater Pipe Band live, don’t miss out. Music is profoundly powerful, especially when played on the bagpipes.