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Music to stir an army

Wren Wertin
Fifty members strong, the Michael Collins Pipe and Drum Band embraces Irish fun and games. They perform Saturday at the Vilar Center for the Meet the Wilderness fund-raiser. Tickets are $15, and the show starts at 7 p.m.
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In all the best circles, Irish fun and games mean drinking deeply, dancing energetically and singling merrily. Fifty members strong, the Michael Collins Pipe and Drum Band embraces that – and more. They perform Saturday at the Vilar Center for the Meet the Wilderness fund-raiser. Tickets are $15, and the show starts at 7 p.m.

Any band with a chieftain is bound to be interesting. Throw in a pipe major and a drum major, and you’ve got real possibilities. Besides, they wear kilts. The Michael Collins Pipe and Drum Band was born out of a picnic in the summer of “96. Within the course of a couple years, they grew from pub band to competition winners. It all boils down to the group’s mission statement, to which they remain true:

“Having fun is the primary goal of the band still today.”



“If we’re not enjoying ourselves, then we know the crowd isn’t,” said bagpiper Michael Breslin. “Our band prides itself on trying to select certain tunes that affect the crowd in a positive way. We throw in a lot of jigs and reels to get them clapping.”

They take their name from the Irish peacekeeper Michael Collins. Recognized as the father of the Irish Republic, Collins worked for peace between Ireland and England. In the spirit of such a namesake, the band’s mission statement makes a definite point about what role politics has in their music and performances:

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“The band’s mission also includes a promise to avoid political discord, discrimination, or exclusion of new members on the basis of religion, political or social ideology, or ethnic heritage.”

Jim Murphy is the pipe band’s chieftain. He discovered bagpipe music while watching television with his dad in Brooklyn, New York.

“Charlton Heston was playing the role of Andrew Jackson and was commanding the American troops at the Battle of New Orleans,” he wrote. “The British advanced behind the pipers as they played and the music came out of the fog toward the American lines. I was hooked – from that moment on I loved pipe music.”



Hearing pipes during a battle scene is nothing less than historical fact. In Ireland, the bagpipes weren’t considered musical instruments but instruments of war.

They originated in Egypt. certain translations of accounts of the burning of Rome have Nero playing not the violin but the pipes. In Ireland, the pipes were first used to entertain royalty, though they slowly evolved into a martial instrument.

“They were used to tell the soldiers things during battles – when to move and where,” said Breslin. “So for several hundred years they were outlawed – you were put to death by playing them. The Irish kept the tradition alive by developing a lap pipe. The Scots kept their pipe music alive by singing it.”

They can still stir a massive group of people to action, whether or not a battle is involved. The frolicsome nature of the band’s performance encourages audiences to shimmy and clap themselves. The drummers in the Michael Collins Pipe and Drum band have wrestled quite a few awards and accolades for their expertise. They always perform a solo that includes choreographed sticks.

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to help the kids and Meet the Wilderness,” said Breslin. “We understand part of the money they hope to raise is to bring kids from Ireland to go through the program. We’re pleased to be a part of that.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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