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Piping 101

Syracuse University senior Eric Ouellette is an active member of the Oran Mor Pipe Band, teaching aspiring players in his free time and aspiring to be a member of the best pipe band in the world.

Nearly every Sunday, Syracuse University senior Eric Ouellette makes the familiar trip to Albany. Since 2005, the biomedical engineering major has been trekking over two hours to New York’s capital for practice. Except, this isn’t your average activity. Ouellette’s honing his skills as a bagpipe player.   

Photo: Matt Ehalt
Ouellette takes some time to practice during the Oran Mor Pipe Band's Spring Training Workshop in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on April 17.

“It’s sort of been a family thing for me,” Ouellette said. “My grandfather started when he was sort of middle age back in the 60s and a couple of his daughters and his son took it up, and it sort of just trickled down through the family from there. I’ve got a lot of cousins that either still do play or have at one point.”

Ouellette is a world-class bagpipe player for the Oran Mor Pipe Band, a pipe band based in Albany, N.Y. He’s been playing for almost 12 years now, and competes with Oran Mor in competitions all over the United States and in various countries like Scotland and Canada. He also instructs other players in the bands and at workshops such as the one the band held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on April 17-18.

“It’s definitely a tough drive (to Albany) and I’ve been doing it almost every Sunday for the last four years,” Ouellette said. “And you have to get creative sometimes juggling school work and timing, but it’s something I’m really committed to and my pursuit is to be a part of the best pipe band in the world and helping the band to be at that level at this point.”

As Ouellette’s mother, Pat, tells him, his piping interest started as a youngster when he started telling his mom he wanted to play the bagpipes. He started taking lessons from his uncles, and has been progressing as a player ever since. He previously played for the Manchester Pipe Band located in Manchester, Conn., just a short drive from his hometown of Coventry, Conn.

Even though he faces a rigorous course load at Syracuse, it hasn’t fazed Ouellette’s commitment to his piping band. A member of the Oran Mor Pipe Band since the fall of 2004, he makes the drive to Albany for practices, and helps teach other players through face-to-face lessons, or sometimes online through programs like Skype.

 “One of the things we’re starting to move towards as a band is building the piping community, especially near where the band is based in Albany,” Ouellette said. “Around the capital district, a lot of different bands, there’s a lot of different players. As I look at it, we’re all fortunate to be where we are and having this talent and ability and it’s great to spread it through the community and all the way down the ranks, and try to spread the word and try and strengthen the piping community as a whole.

Donald Lindsay, one of founders of the Oran Mor Pipe Band, is impressed with Ouellette’s dedication to his craft. Lindsay says Ouellette is way above average in terms of his abilities, accomplishments, and his instincts, and called him a “phenomenal” player.

“Currently in the band many of the younger players are in college, either just getting started or recently out of college,” Lindsay said. “Of all those people, Eric is the one who rarely complains about the stress he must be feeling maintain his academic standing and being more than just an average active member of the band.”

Living With a bagpipe player

John Udho describes what it's been like to live with Eric Ouellette, a bagpipe player, for his four years at Syracuse University.

What's a bagpipe weekend like?

Highlights from the Oran Mor Pipe Band's Spring Training Workshop.

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