Bagpipers bring passion to Saint Paddy's Day

Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A bagpiper sometimes must rise to the defense of her instrument, which is not for everyone.

"I am offended when people say they're too loud," said Laurie Gardner. "If you're listening to loud rock 'n' roll, the bagpipe is certainly quieter than that."

On Saint Patrick's Day, at least, the bagpipe ought to be in its element. Gardner and a few fellow pipers are planning a Saint Paddy's pub crawl tonight. The traveling show is weather permitting - high winds can be hard on people wearing kilts, she said.

Gardner, who has a day job as a mortgage lender at Alaska USA, has led Stroller White Pipes and Drums, Juneau's pipe band, since 1985.

Irish bagpipes are rare. So Scottish Great Highland bagpipes are usually heard in Saint Patrick's Day parades, even in Dublin. Gardner, a piper since she was 10, has marched in many parades.

"I love my pipes," she said.

Gardner comes from a bagpiping family in Olympia, Wash. In 1971, her little brother decided he wanted to play when he saw pipers in a parade. Her parents found a teacher. It turned out he was too small to play, but the rest of the family was recruited. They went to the Scottish Shopper in Seattle and brought home four practice instruments. The children challenged the adults to start a band.

Eventually they formed a group of two dozen or so, including relatives and others. The Olympia Highlanders performed in parades and houses with vaulted ceilings. They had "massive band parties," Gardner said, "outrageous and wonderful."

"Our band was a family, and our family did everything together," she said.

Most people anticipating bagpipers at a parade or party expect kilts and marching. Stroller White members wear kilts in the Ancient MacLean of Duart tartan. And they march; Gardner also is the dance major.

"I like that part of it," she said. "But I would prefer the casual picnic, where you're wearing shorts and flipflops and jamming with your friends. I'd rather just go out and play and have fun."

She still goes back to Washington to jam with her family. Her brother and father still play; her father was the pipe major for the Olympia Highlanders for many years. Gardner also is married to a bagpiper, Doug Gardner, whom she met when he became one of her bagpipe students.

The pipers are rarely paid for their performances, though they appear often for weddings, funerals, the Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial, parades, relays and the like. So it's nicer, Gardner said, to play for those who really appreciate the bagpipes.

Stroller White pipers are currently looking for a sponsor with a space where they can pratice marching.

Tonight's pub crawl is tentative, but would likely include Louie's, also known as PP's Douglas Inn, and the Lucky Lady, as well as other downtown bars in the early evening.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or

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