FLEMING ISLAND – Bagpipes and drums aren’t what most people think of when they hear the word ‘band.’ People typically think of a guitar, drums and a singer or two, but certainly not …
FLEMING ISLAND – Bagpipes and drums aren’t what most people think of when they hear the word ‘band.’ People typically think of a guitar, drums and a singer or two, but certainly not bagpipes.
Formerly known as Clay County Pipes and Drums Corps., First Coast Highlanders bagpipe and drum band performs at various events year-round but also teaches the willing how to play the bagpipes.
Art Tenney, 71, of Starke, started the band in 2009 because he wanted to play his bagpipes without having to be in a competition band. He has been playing bagpipes for 49 years and was the Clay County Sherriff’s Office bagpiper before starting the band.
The band is made up of seven students, seven pipers and five drummers with a total of 19 members. Members range in age from 9 years to 74 years old. Tenney believes no one is too young or too old to learn the bagpipes.
“We’ll teach anyone, it doesn’t matter how old they are,” Tenney said. “We’ll teach somebody at 8-years-old if we think they can do it, or if they’re 108-years-old and they want to, we’ll teach them. There’s no limits.”
Brothers Blake, 12, and Tyler Buterbaugh, 9, of Middleburg, are both students in the band. Blake is learning how to play bagpipes and Tyler is learning how to play drums.
“Our mom heard about them and she called Art to find out how we can get involved and learn to play instruments,” Tyler Buterbaugh said.
Brooklyn Harrell, 11, of Orange Park, has been learning the bagpipes for a year-and-a-half. She first saw Tenney play at St. Giles’ Presbyterian Church near Orange Park and decided she wanted to play as well.
“I wanted to play because it’s something I never heard before,” Harrell said. “It’s a lot of practice and work, and I mess up sometimes, but I just have to practice, practice, practice.”
People interested in joining First Coast Highlanders don’t have to be Scottish, however, many of its members have Scottish roots.
Evan Brown, 60, of Raiford, Fla., is the band’s lead drummer and president. He joined the band in 2011 to feel connected to his Scottish heritage. He would like younger generations to get involved and learn how to play drums and bagpipes.
“I would like to encourage young people to take up drumming,” Brown said. “I have two adult students and one kid and that’s a good start, but we would like to build up the band more with some more members to carry into a new generation of pipers and drummers.”
Scotland Boland, 19, of Middleburg, has been playing bagpipes for seven years and is the band’s vice president. He is another member with Scottish roots and joined the band after hearing them play at the Northeast Florida Scottish Games and Festival held at the Clay County Fairgrounds. He offered advice to people who may want to learn how to play bagpipes.
“It definitely takes some work and you have to practice every day,” Boland said. “But whatever you do in life, have fun with it because if you don’t have fun with it, why do it?”
After becoming independent from Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the band has had to rely on sponsors and donations for funding.
In 2014, the band was one of three bands from the United States who were invited to play in Scotland to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Practice is held every Thursday night at 5 at Orange Park Presbyterian Church. The band is available for a variety of events including, weddings, Kirkins, funerals, parties and other events.
For more information, contact Tenney at (904) 368-8177.