Nashville Pipes and Drums is the premier Scottish pipe and drum corps in Middle Tennessee. Established in 1984, the band furthers the heritage and traditions of Scottish musical culture in the Nashville area through education, performance, and competition
Bill Wilkerson joined the Nashville Pipes and Drums in 2010. That year, Bill returned to Tennessee from Maryland. In 2001, at the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival, Bill’s response to bagpipes was, “I gotta do that!” That day, he had a practice chanter, a “Sandy Jones” book and a teacher who soon had him up on pipes and in the circle of a Grade V EUSPBA pipe band. The next few years, Bill performed in countless parades, placed in band competitions, attended the North American Academy of Piping and Drumming and the Balmoral School of Piping and Drumming, began solo competing and studied under several teachers including Paula Glendinning and currently, Dan Lyden.
In 2006, Bill became 2nd in Overall Points in the EUSPBA at Grade Four Senior, and moved to Grade Three in solo competition. Several personal setbacks slowed Bill’s progress, but in 2017, he was 2nd in Season Standings (missing 1st by one point) at Grade Three. Bill continues to compete in Grade Three and perform with NP&D. He holds two bachelors’ degrees, one masters’, has been an ordained pastor and church planter, a licensed insurance salesman, currently hosts a weekly radio show and works with Ryman Hospitality Properties.
Bill and his wife Margaret were married in 1991. She is a CPA and CFE for the state of Tennessee. Bill’s daughter Emily has been a snare drummer for NP&D and is currently a film student at Lipscomb University.
Nick Bergin’s earliest memories of the bagpipes come from his elementary school years at St. Thomas Episcopal School in Houston. Like many St. Thomas kids, he learned piping through the school’s outstanding band program, led at the time by Mike Cusack. Nick was an eager student of the bagpipes; unfortunately, he was an eager student of almost nothing else. Like many such young Houstonians, he eventually found his way to the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where he got his act together a bit. During these years, he played on and off with the Hamilton Pipe Band (now the St. Thomas Alumni Band), which proved to be a demanding experience for everyone involved.
After high school, Nick studied music at the Peabody Conservatory and Indiana University, majoring in organ performance. When he finished his studies in 2012, he moved to Nashville to work as the organist at First Presbyterian Church. After a year consisting mainly of work and a lot of solo karaoke, he reached out to the Nashville Pipes and Drums and attended his first pipe band rehearsal in nearly a decade. Though his playing was a bit rusty, he felt immediately at home in this lively group of dedicated musicians. Moreover, he was excited to be part of an ensemble where he could both learn a lot and contribute a lot. Since then, he’s played regularly with the band in competitions and gigs, and both his playing and his social life have improved significantly along the way. He remains very grateful to be part of the NP&D family.
If you asked her Mom she would say that she always knew Becca would be
a drummer in a bagpipe band. This knowledge was based solely on
reactions to pipe bands marching past her in parades before Becca was
born. Becca took up drumming in elementary school band and started
learning how to play tenor drum in the 8th grade. She attended
Shorecrest High School in Seattle Washington, the only high school in
the state that happens to have a student pipe band. Her very first
performance with the band was the Homecoming assembly her freshman
year. During 4 years of high school and for several years after
graduation Becca was active with the high school as well as the alumni
Becca took a break from playing with pipe bands to attend the Dick
Grove School of Music in Los Angeles where she studied vocal
performance. After moving to Nashville in 1998, Becca was able to
rekindle her love of playing with pipe bands when she joined the NP&D
Grade IV band. She has been active in the band since then attending
competitions around the southeast as well as performing in local and
out of town gigs that the band participates in. Becca has also served as an officer for many years as Secretary and Treasurer.
Today I sit with the reality that I, of my own free will, officially and indefinitely stepped down from the leadership role of a band that I love. The Nashville Pipes and Drums and its corps of membership has been a supporting and fostering part of my climb to adulthood, and a continued avenue of support for me since my enrollment in their beginner program at age 10. That is something that I am grateful for. For eight years I have now worked diligently as an officer and pipe major for the band that has given so much to me for the past 22 years. It is a bittersweet moment when I step back and realize that my time at the front right column is over.
But looking back, I’ll say that we have accomplished so much together. The band and its membership has never once let me down. We have done much, and shared many memories together.
Looking forward I know you will continue to be guided by good leadership. You deserve the best, and you should settle for nothing less.
I am stepping down from leadership in order to pursue a commission in the Army National Guard in addition to my full time police career. The addition of the military, and the training time that it will require, has made it necessary for me to make a very difficult choice. However I have come to the realization that in order to achieve a dream, one must eventually stop dreaming and take action.
I hopefully leave on good terms with Nashville P&D, as they have all been completely understanding and supportive (as always) in my decision. While I will not be able to carry on in a leadership capacity and give the role the attention that it deserves, I will always be ready and happy to assist the group in whatever way I can help. I am glad to see David Goodman leading the group forward, as he is a trusted friend and a talented musician. I’m confident he will continue pushing the band in a positive direction, and I will be happy to continue working with and beside him in the future.
The Nashville Pipes and Drums is pleased to announce that David Goodman has been elected as our Pipe Major for 2018 at the band’s Annual General Meeting.
Along with the new Pipe Major, we have a new slate of officers for the coming year:
Band Manager and Webmaster: Josh Barton
Quartermaster: Nathan Crandell
Secretary and Treasurer: Chris Minnis
At the meeting, the new PM appointed Grace Abernethy as the Pipe Sergeant, and Chris Minnis will continue as Drum Sergeant.
Thanks to all those who have volunteered to serve, and particular recognition is due to outgoing Treasurer and Secretary Becca Sanders and outgoing PM Nathan Dungan, who have given an immense amount of their time and energy to the leadership of the band.
David led a great discussion on the direction the band will be taking this year, focusing on competition, recruitment, and expanding our education program. We’re exciting about another fantastic year for the Nashville Pipes and Drums!
Sometime in early 1984, a group gathered not-so-secretly at Nashville’s Cheekwood Estate specifically to play bagpipes. Obviously, it takes one strike-in to compromise that secret… there was nothing to hid. Those get-togethers became rehearsals and moved to the cafeteria at Hillsboro High School. Early participants by name include Steve Snoddy, Andrew McRady, Jim & Ann Black, Scott McLeod. I wonder what they were thinking? Did they have hopes of building something or were they just sharing a love for bagpipes?
Jim Black had retired to Savannah, TN after a career with the NYC Police Department that included playing pipes in the NYC Police Pipes and Drums. Jim, his wife, and kids would drive 2 hours one way to Nashville. Scott McLeod also had previous pipe band experience with the Grandfather Mountain Highlanders Pipe Band. When the group elected Jim the first Pipe Major, a pipe band was clearly the goal. Scott, even as a teenager, was the best piper and primary instructor. The players were there and getting better, but the band was incomplete without one more ingredient.
When two drummers originally from different parts of Texas, Willie Cantu (original Buck Owens and the Buckaroos drummer) and later Roy Barbee (Sonny James and the Southern Gentlemen drummer) joined the group, the Nashville Pipes & Drums were truly born. There were cheers when Roy arrived, as it meant the band had enough drummers to join the EUSPBA and compete. I think this had to be akin to welcoming the newest patient to the asylum. How did two professional musicians with no Scottish or Irish heritage come to this music? Many drummers immediately find jazz and swing in the drums scores written after World War II… Alex Duthart! but that’s a different story… Suffice to say the music was what attracted Willie and Roy and the dedication to learning a new and difficult style is what kept them.
Rehearsals moved to Woodmont Christian Church (where they remain today – we’ve enjoyed a 25+ year partnership). Uniforms were chosen to honor James Robertson (a founder of the City of Nashville) and local performances began.
Scott McLeod moved away, but Joe Miller relocated from New Jersey and joined the band. Over the years, there have been many highlight performances for the band. Members have relocated and leadership has changed. Early in the band there was some sort of split over some members wanting a “fun” band and others wanting a “good” band. Pipe bands occasionally struggle with identity. Individuals struggle with the standard a band has. Ultimately, some of the members left to join other bands. But the spark was still alive and stronger than ever. The Nashville Pipes and Drums survived and continues to this day, trying to be a “good” band. Our standard for excellence is one of our core principles.
There are many stories in a pipe band. Each member has their own, “How I Came to be in a Pipe Band” story that range from enlightenment to entrapment, Black Watch to Blackmail… The pipe bands themselves have all the things you’d expect from a family: history, family trees, favorites, and outcasts… even (not-so) dramatic returns. (your author left the band to relocate in 1997 and returned like a lost Uncle in 2015). I hope to explore some of these stories (including my own) here in the future.
I’ve always been moved, or maybe the better word is “stirred”, by the distinct sound of the Great Highland Bagpipes. I wish that my first time hearing the pipes somehow appropriately matched their large iconic sound, but that wasn’t my story. The perfect place, I could imagine, would have possibly been atop a remote mountain at sunset after a long hike, or perhaps from the far shore of a misty lake in the early morning. But for me, my first memory of hearing the pipes was while watching the beloved 1995 cult classic comedy, “Tommy Boy”.
Like I said, not the most notable of first experiences in hindsight, but you’ll have to excuse me. I was eleven years old at the time, and I loved that movie. As you may recall, the tune they play as Tommy mournfully reflects over the casket of Big Tom Callahan is none other than “Amazing Grace”, which though objectively is a great composition, also happens to be the most commonly requested tune of any piper anywhere since it was first arranged for the instrument in 1972. That means we hear it in our waking minds and we hear it in our sleep. But I’m not going to lie – I just watched that very scene on YouTube while writing this article and, as many times as I’ve played it, my hair follicles still tingled the moment the full band strikes in to play. It’s a powerful tune played on a powerful instrument.
Fast-forward to 2004 when, as a sophomore at Belmont University, I attended a convocation in the campus music hall by invitation of a friend who thought I might like to hear a full pipe and drum corps concert. I didn’t like it… I loved it! It was the first time I had been in an enclosed space with pipes and drums all playing together live. It was loud and commanding! They played “Amazing Grace!” But to me, as enjoyable as the concert was, it somehow didn’t feel attainable. It seemed like a lot of time and money to invest in a niche hobby. I had been in music my whole life, my parents having started me on formal lessons when I was three. I was obviously in Nashville to be a rock star. No time for pipes.
I think anyone who has spent any amount of time and money in Nashville trying to “make it” in some capacity in the music industry can relate to the moment in the pursuit when they first encounter the dark side – the churning guts of the machine of music business. This encounter for me ultimately led to the death of my aspirations. For some, the prize of succeeding, of being recognizable on the street or maybe even just making ends meet musically, is enough to keep pushing through the no-man’s land of playing, not for the joy, but for the business model of what it means to be an entertainer. Several years in, I made the realization that this environment had killed in me a lifelong love of the essence of music. I couldn’t feel it anymore. I didn’t get joy out of playing or going to concerts. I could only listen critically. The mystery and the magic was gone and the process of creation became a calculated motion of quota. So, like so many others before me, I scraped bottom and was forced to reflect inward. I came to see that there was nothing else in it for me. I put my guitar down, I observed a period of mourning at the loss of my great passion, and I moved on to focus on a career in an industry that I didn’t hate, but also didn’t care enough about that I could be let down that way again.
…Then returned the notion of bagpipes.
My fiancé and I were driving up to Wisconsin to visit her family for Christmas back in 2013, and on a drive that long you find yourself listening to all sorts of music, thinking all sorts of different thoughts. I put on some bagpipe music just to get a sense of how they made her feel, to see if she got a subtle buzz the way I did. Though she did enjoy the sound, it was not, perhaps, in the same primordial way that I do. I’m a descendant of Scottish ancestry, an identity my family is very proud of, but a point of pride we never felt the need to strongly advertise. Perhaps the love of the sound is just in my blood, but the point of it being, it was then that I started playing around with the idea of learning bagpipes… as a gag. I thought it would be funny to wake up her family one morning with bagpipes that I had learned in secret, as a sort of long-con joke. That’s how it began. I wish I were kidding.
I Google searched “bagpipes for sale” on my phone. $1,200 to $2,500 was a bit daunting. We were planning on getting married that year and for those in the know, weddings are expensive. I didn’t think there was any likelihood of talking her into my starting up another hobby right as we were about to get married. I kept Googling. Lessons seemed hard to come by, the instrument was notoriously difficult to play, let alone to maintain.
Oh! But then I found it: The amazing, cost-friendly, and (most importantly) low-volume practice chanter! No full set of pipes needed. I read that you could learn form and tunes on the chanter first and decide later-on whether it was the instrument for you. Given that I was then only looking at around a $60 front-end investment, it no longer felt like I had to move heaven and earth to explore the possibility of learning. Lessons seemed essential to the process, though. There are countless ways to play the pipes wrong, and in their lack of modesty, their potential wrongness can be broadcast quite far. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but budget was still a consideration. Guitar lessons used to cost $65 per class. I didn’t have a spare $260 a month sitting around.
I’m not sure what my search criteria was, but I didn’t find Nashville Pipes and Drums first. I did, however, initially find a number of teachers giving private lessons remotely. One piper did Skype lessons from Scotland. Another piper in Chattanooga would teach face-to-face if I made the four-hour round trip every week. I started to lose optimism that I could find instruction that would work for my schedule and budget, but eventually I happened upon the Nashville Pipes and Drums website advertising free lessons. Free!? Free. I signed up and bought a chanter.
Learning a new instrument in my thirties, in front of my step-kids and wife, was probably the hardest mountain to climb on the road to decency. I sounded terrible for a long time, and had to practice within earshot of my family who were all very patient. It was a hard position to be put in as a formerly semi-professional musician, but the band teachers were so helpful and encouraging of my progress. As it was a group class, I was encouraged by not being the only one in the class who couldn’t play a clean doubling, let alone a tachum. We sucked together at first, but then we learned together and shared in those milestones of success.
Three years later, I’m still learning. The pipe major is still learning, for that matter. The whole group, regardless of experience, works hard almost every day at reaching for the next height. I finally learned how sight read music, a subject I had successfully evaded my entire musical life prior. With the band, I’ve played on the stage of the Grand Ol Opry. I’ve marched in parades across town. I’ve had my picture in magazines. People have been brought to tears by our music. Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a regional solo competition and took home first place in my division. On top of all of that, on top of all of those moments I had originally hoped to experience, but never did, on my quest to become a rock star, I’m now a part of a great and diverse musical community. My step son is learning to play the Scottish snare through the band and just this year was issued his kilt and marched with me in the Dragon Park parade. I’m passionate about that next height and the process involved in getting there because, probably more importantly than any other payout of all of that hard work, my love of music – for the joy of music – has been restored. I’ve even been known to strum on my guitar again from time to time.
Appointed by the Pipe Major, Chris is our Drum Sergeant and plays lead snare drum. This position is responsible for repertoire as well as leading rehearsals for the drum corps.
Originally from Owensboro, KY, Chris began his drumming life at the age of 4 (his Dad and Granddad were also drummers). Early time was focused on drum set (even though he carried a saxophone back and forth to school in the 5th grade so his Mom wouldn’t know), but the 7th grade started his marching experience that would encompass high school and college. He taught high school bands throughout Kentucky and Tennessee from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.
After moving to Nashville in 1989, Chris spent some years in a failed attempt to become a rock star. Eventually giving that dream up in 1995, he answered an ad looking for drummers and was introduced to bagpipe bands and the Scottish style of drumming by Carol Davis and Roy Barbee of our own Nashville Pipes and Drums. The band was then and continues now to be focused on the sharing of knowledge and pursuit of excellence. Chris teaches our beginning class Monday nights and continues working with members of the drum corps individually. He also competes at the Grade 2 level in the EUSPBA and is still taking lessons himself..
Professionally, Chris is an Enterprise Architect with Mainline Information Systems since 2003.
Grace Abernethy began learning bagpipes at the age of thirteen in Greenville, SC as a result of her mother wanting her to play piano. Sixteen years later, she is still playing bagpipes. She competes regularly in the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association’s professional grade, which is the top tier of piping. Grace is the winner of the Sandy Jones Invitational and the two-time winner of the Southeastern Region’s MacCrimmon Quaich.
Grace works as a historic preservationist at Carnton and Carter House in Franklin and does freelance decorative painting. Her husband Brendan is also a piper in the Nashville P&D.
Nathan Dungan is the current Pipe Major for the Nashville Pipes and Drums. Nathan began music lessons at the age of 5, starting with piano. At the age of 10 Nathan began learning the bagpipes by attending a week of instruction at the North American Academy of Piping and Drums (NAAPD) in Valle Crucis, NC. Annual trips to the school, attendance of group lessons with the Nashville Pipes and Drums, and private instruction from former Pipe Major Jay Dawson led to a solid foundation in the instrument and the fundamentals of music theory. Nathan went on to study under the direction of William Logan before obtaining a bagpipe scholarship to St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC. At St. Andrews he continued his studies under Pipe Major Bill Caudill. Nathan competes in Grade 2 solos in the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. Nathan studied Public History at St. Andrews, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Public History Honors Research while also participating in the college pipe band and solo competitions. Nathan also met his wife, Ashley, at St. Andrews where she also attended and played snare drum for the band. Upon returning to Nashville, Nathan was elected Pipe Major of the Nashville Pipes and Drums. Nathan is currently employed by Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, providing bagpipes for police and Metropolitan Nashville government functions and funerals in addition to his regular duties.