HUNTERSVILLE – They can be found at highland games all over the southeast, but also at graduations, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and even inside local bottle shops.
And at Hopewell Presbyterian Church April 8, the Loch Norman Pipe Band was putting final touches on music to again play host to the Loch Norman Highland Games at Historic Rural Hill, just a few miles away from the Beatties Ford Road Church.
But just six weeks earlier, a group of three drummers of the roughly 20-member nonprofit was pounding and twirling around a table at Crafty Beer Guys on a rainy Saturday afternoon. “When we have a new score to write, we get a lot more creative when we drink beer,” base drummer Karen Heidrich said at the Hopewell practice. “And that table is the perfect size.”
Formed in 1996 by Pipe Major Ed Krintz and his wife, Timmy Hord, the nonprofit band won its first-ever competition at the Loch Norman games in 1997. By the end of 1998, the band was upgraded from Grade V to Grade IV by the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association – Grade I is the highest, as there is only one such band in the United States.
Fortunately for the LNPB, two members of that group – the City of Dunedin Pipe Band – visited from the Gulf Coast of Florida and now perform with the local group. Emily Bellefleur is a Grade I professional tenor drummer. Her brother, Alasdair Martin, is a pipe major.
“They bring so much depth of knowledge,” Heidrich said.
Inside the office/gym building at Hopewell, the two instrument groups – bagpipes and drums – start off practicing separately, on opposite ends of the hallway. And the first hour of their weekly practice serves as an open tryout for anyone who wants to join. Eventually, though, the two groups join forces in the gym to create a rich, spiritual sound.
The band’s manager, Mark Adamson, started off as a saxophone player, but gravitated toward the “pipes” in the early 2000s.
“The instrument is very unique, it’s very powerful,” he said as he prepared to join his group. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous instrument.”
This weekend at Rural Hill, the LNPB – the only such band in the Charlotte metro area – and dozens of other bands perform throughout the event, where each competition involves a different set of music. This includes competing for the judges against bands from Greenville, S.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Atlanta; Grandfather Mountain and other places.
“It’s really a fun day,” Heidrich said. “When you get 200 to 300 people and they play ‘Amazing Grace,’ it gets your heart pitter-pattering.”
That experience for LNPB is a family affair for several members, as Heidrich’s teenage children also perform, while Wood Boyles and his mother Tina are both drummers.
“Now my husband has the bug, he’s been bitten,” Tina Boyles said.
On April 5, the band gave patrons of NoDa Brewing Company in Charlotte a sneak preview of their Scottish music. The brewery that day released its Loch Norman Scottish Ale as a precursor to the Highland Games.