Inside the Circle with Juli Gillispie, Teacher, Piper & Local Piobaireachd Champion
When and why did you start playing pipes? Why a pipe band?
I started playing pipes about 12 years ago after my kids joined the local pipe band as drummers and I kept saying, “One of these days I’ll learn to play pipes!” Their response was, “One of these days?” They had a valid point and so, I found a teacher to help me pursue learning an instrument I have always wanted to play since I was a child.
Pipe band gives me an opportunity to be around other piping obsessed people. It also provides a challenge in producing a unison sound and awesome music. Band also pushes me personally in perfecting my playing. I certainly don’t want to be that person who holds the band back from progression.
Is your family musical?
Yes, everyone either plays an instrument and/or sings.
What was your first/fondest musical memory?
My most recent fond memory is from the Phoenix games a few weeks ago where I solo competed and placed first in piobaireachd. This was the first time I placed that well in Western US Pipe Band Association. Now I have to keep working and do as well the rest of the season and, of course, in future seasons.
What was your most embarrassing moment as a piper?
Hmmm….probably trailing drones at my first gig with the Las Vega Pipe Band! I didn’t see the Pipe Major turn around for the cut-off because I was behind some tall pipers. Unfortunately, this gig was in front of the New York, New York of all places! I now really make sure that I can see the cut off signal!
Who was your first teacher?
My first piping instructor was Tamar Stevens. She used to play with a Grade 1 band in California then moved to Alaska and played in a pipe band there.
Describe your practice routine.
I practice almost every day. First I play my pipes for at least an hour then practice chanter for another hour or so. I try to focus on technique and trouble areas. If my practice on competition and band tunes is not going well I either play other material or stop for the day.
How do you balance piping with other obligations in your life? Family, job, etc. and what inspires you to stick with it?
Piping is a big priority in my life which, all my family fully support. It is very important to me.
Who are your favorite musicians?
Stuart Liddell and Donald Macleod are a couple of my favorite pipers.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance and competition?
I berate myself and then practice those areas so that they don’t happen again. During a performance I pretend there was not a mistake.
What advice would you give to a new student/musician just starting out in drumming?
I recommend listening to the instructions of your teacher and in a band to the Pipe Major. Practice a lot! Practice the material you are asked to practice and focus on the small problem areas and technique development.
Where would you like to see the band in the next 5 - 10 years? What do you hope to accomplish personally as a musician in the next 5 - 10 years?
I see the band progressing forward in competition towards a larger Grade 4 band, doing more gigs, and increasing membership. We especially need more kids in the band. Personally, I plan to continue improving and perfecting my playing both as a solo and band player. In solos, I plan to move to an upper grade especially in piobaireachd.
How would your life be different if you weren't a piper?
I would play another instrument in another band. Music is something that is important to me.
What other instrument would you most like to play if you weren't a piper?
At times I think of learning fiddle but pipes are so time consuming I have not pursued that interest.
What is your favorite thing about being a piper in the Las Vegas Pipe Band?
The camaraderie of the band - it's like an extended family. Also the music; pipe music is just something that calls to me.
What is your favorite curse word?
At band it is usually it's “shit” as in: “Shit! I just made a mistake! No!” In the car, it might be something else but definitely at band, it's “shit!”