Friday, February 19, 2016

#LadyPipers, an interview with The Dark Isle Pipers

Outlander fans coined the phrase.... #LADYPIPERS

OutlanderHomepage Originals Edited by Nancy M Guillory

Do a web search on any Outlander event, and you will likely be delighted with photos of three beautiful lady bagpipers, who are gaining notoriety piping the sounds of McCreary's Outlander score. Better known as The Dark Isle Pipers, or the group’s stage name, The Scottish Rejects, they are swarmed by the fandom at every premiere and have become as much a part of the Outlander red carpet production, as the cast themselves.

We asked our favorite Pipers, Tress Maksimuk, Valerie Byrnes, and Lela Perriello, all the questions Outlander fans would hopefully want to know. Here is what they had to say...

Where are you ladies originally from? Tell us about yourselves. How did you come to study the Pipes, which are a male dominated instrument?

Tress Maksimuk:
My background on my Musical Side stems around growing up in a large family with Music and Art all around us. We had no television and lots of time on our hands! So our main focus was on the piano that we had in our house. We all learned how to play the piano, and some of us excelled at it. I was the one that couldn’t handle taking the time to learn Music Theory and was better at “Learning by Ear.” Throughout my youth, I gravitated to other instruments like flute, guitar, and the recorder. Still, at the end of the day I enjoyed sitting at the Piano and playing whatever tune came into my mind. At age 12, I was introduced to the Music of “Enya” was enthralled and inspired by the Celtic tones which awakened my inner Irish and Scottish roots. Now I find myself 15 years into Mastering and performing the Great Highland Bagpipes. I am in LOVE with the Bagpipes! They bring me home to Scotland. The first time I heard a Pipe Band play it went straight to my heart and moved and inspired me to play. Shortly after I joined a competitive Pipe Band, then started our performing group with Valerie Byrnes, and Lela Perriello. My hope is to ALWAYS bring the listener to Scotland and inspire others to embrace their Celtic Roots.

Tress Maksimuk also known as the Dark Isle Piper is a musician, composer, professional performer, recording studio artist and instructor of the Great Highland Bagpipes. For fifteen years she has developed her skills as a Highland Bagpiper. Instructing pupils on the Highland Bagpipes for ten years has been her passion. Disney Interactive Studios produced a short film in which she worked alongside the great musical icon Richard Sherman. She has become well known for her role as the bagpiper for the Starz television series Outlander. While visiting Scotland on the Isle of Lewis, at the Callanish Stones, BBC Scotland Channel 3 Hebrides Island newscasters filmed her as she played the Bagpipes through the Stones.

As a female playing a traditionally male instrument, she strives to evoke the sublime beauty and grace of such a rough land dominated by great masculine figures. Outlander fans have seen this and uniquely tagged her band as #LadyPipers on social media.

(When Tress is not bag-piping across a majestic glen, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two teenage daughters, training for triathlons, traveling and spending time with her Wellies in her Garden.)

Valerie Byrnes:
I grew up in Upland, CA, and Upland High School have had a bagpipe band since around 1985. When I was 10 years old, a bagpipe band performed at my elementary school, I was inspired then and there to become a bagpiper when I got to high school. My freshman year I started learning, as I was already a flutist in the marching band, I figured I would just do both. I fell in love with it!

Some things that I would include on my artist resume would be: studio recording artist, competitive soloist bagpiper, guest performing artist (for a rock band), bagpipe instructor, Pipe Major (leader of a pipe band), Drum Major (leader of a marching band), performer for Starz Network events for the Outlander Series, and musical director for the Dark Isle Pipe Band.
I have now been playing the Scottish Highland Bagpipes for 15 years (over half my life).

(Valerie is training to become a career pilot, she loves fitness and working out. She loves comic books and idolize Wonderwoman. She enjoys writing, and says: she absolutely loves the Outlander books and the show, and loves the idea of women doing things that men do and doing it better. (Just kidding! sort of)

Lela Perriello:
I'm originally from Northern Michigan and moved to California almost 10 years ago for work. I'm an only child that became interested in playing music when my mum introduced me to the clarinet in grade school. Throughout junior high and high school, I was heavily involved with music! Luckily I went to schools where "band geeks" we're cool! I played the clarinet and bass clarinet in band, orchestra, and pit orchestra, and the tenor saxophone in marching band and jazz band. I competed in numerous solo & ensemble competitions, I was part of a statewide band in Michigan for 3 years and was first chair clarinet my senior year, our school orchestra was selected to compete at the Kennedy Center and we won first place, and I went to the Interlochen Arts Camp one summer.

After graduating from high school, my focus turned to science. I graduated from the University of Michigan and worked in a prostate cancer research lab in Ann Arbor and Boston. I was extremely interested in forensic science and decided to get my masters degree. After looking around for a good school, I figured the best place to go would be the birth place of forensics, the U.K.! I was lucky enough to spend a year in Glasgow at the University of Strathclyde and 3 months in Auckland, New Zealand, getting my Masters in Forensic Science.
I was able to do a wee bit of traveling in Scotland, Europe, and N.Z. when not studying! It was an amazing experience filled with great people and places that I'm lucky to have had!

I returned to the States and was hired as a Deputy Coroner Investigator with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in 2006.

Shortly after moving to California and starting my new job, the music gods decided I needed to start playing again. I became the treasurer for the Inland Empire Scottish Society around the same time that an email came out at work asking if anyone was interested in forming a Sheriff pipe band. I had always been interested in the bagpipes and thought this was a fantastic opportunity!

Though the Sheriff's pipe band did not come to fruition, last year I was able to join the Sheriff's Honor Guard as one of their pipers. It is a great pride of mine to pipe for them as well.

(In Lela's "spare" time, she enjoy's spending time with her husband, traveling, riding her road bike (apparently a glutton for punishment, she has a 100 mile ride coming up!), and doing cross stitch.)

How did you ladies meet and start playing together?

Valerie, myself, and the talented Lela Perriello met and became fast friends due to our love and connection of the Highland Bagpipes. We all come from different backgrounds. Valerie is studying to be a pilot, Lela is a Sherrif Coroner, while I Instructs students daily on learning the Bagpipes. We are Best Friends bonded by our love of Scotland.

Our bagpiping instructor had a competing bagpipe band, which I joined my junior year of high school, about 2 years later, Tress Maksimuk also joined that competition band and we became fast friends. About 4 years after that we met Lela Perriello and we started our group, the Scottish Rejects - now the Dark Isle Pipe Band.

At the first Inland Empire Scottish Society meeting, I sat directly across from Tress, learned she was an instructor, and it was an immediate friendship! Tress introduced me to Val, friendships grew, we started the Dark Isle Pipe Band/Scottish Rejects, nine years have gone by, and the rest is history! I have been blessed to play the pipes at many wonderful places for loads of fantastic people with these lovely ladies!

Do you play at events together as a musical group and Pipe on your own as well?

Yes, So excited to announce our next band Concert is set for September 18, 2016 at the Curtis Theater in Brea California. It will be a venture with some other wonderful Celtic artists and musicians, celebrating the celtic Festival Mabon. Our Band is called “Dark Isle Pipe Band” and our fun crazy band name is, “Scottish Rejects.” We have two names, so please don’t get confused.
I am also currently Recording my first Solo Album which will debut in late 2016.

The mark of a good piper, or a piping group, is the ability to leave an impression behind about this beautiful, albeit loud, instrument. I feel that we work towards that every time we practice or perform.

Tress explained a lot about our upcoming concert on 9/18/16 and some of the interesting bits about us as a group. We are also currently planning our performances for St. Paddy's Day here in SoCal! I don't have much time to spare, I prefer to pipe with my ladies at gigs anyhow, it's more fun! 

What is the story with your two band names?

The "Scottish Rejects" originally started 9 years ago at an Irish Pub in a small town in Colton California. Now the band is known as the “Dark Isle Pipers".

The Scottish Rejects officially debuted on St. Patrick's Day 2009. From the very first day we were definitely unconventional as a group, seeing as how we are all women playing an instrument that is typically played by men. We also don't always wear the traditional full kilt and outfit, preferring instead to dress according to the type of event we are performing for. Yet even with this unconventional and tradition bending attitude, we still maintain a strong emphasis on good sound with our instruments and strong performance.

When learning the Bagpipes, are there formal lessons to learn the ancient history of it, along with the musical training?

The Pipers of the great battles. Can you imagine playing exposed on a hill top, piping (the cry to battle) through sword fight and (in modern war) with guns and bombs going off?

Any thoughts on those heroes, knowing how hard it is to play the pipes to begin with?

Yes there is definitely formal training on how to learn to play the Bagpipes. It takes Pipers close to 7 years to adapt and learn to do the finger movements and to build muscle memory. This includes learning the skill of blowing and squeezing the bag at the right moments to create an even sound from the drones (backdrop noise). We generally plan a modern form of piping. There is a more ancient or “Classical” form called Piobaireachd which translated from Gaelic to English means, “Piping” or “act of piping”. This form is classical. Today you will hear more modern Piping. The Classical form is still taught, but it can be hard to find teachers that are trained to teach Piobaireachd. The History of the Pipes is something that we are not taught, but if you love the pipes you tend to want to know how they came to be. The History of the pipes and where they came from is hard to track down. It amazes me how the Pipers in battle had the courage to stand and play while being on the front lines. Pipers were trained specifically for battle in the World Wars. They are the perfect battle cry. Proud, Bold and haunting are the melodies that they give voice to. While visiting a few Castles in Scotland, I was able to look at an old Pipe under glass where the blow Pipe had broken off (the piece that we use to blow the bag up) and the story written on a plaque of a Scottish soldier shot down in Battle while playing that set of pipes. This story, and seeing those pipes gave me chills.

Which kilts do you wear with what pipes? Do you follow the ancestral rules from when formalities were essential? 

Of course the type of kilt and how it is worn has changed over the last 200 years, but wearing the full kilt is still the proper way of presenting yourself as a Piper. For formal events such as Weddings, Funerals and Partys every piper wears the full formal attire. In a Pipe Band it is very formal as well. There are different jackets and button down shirts that you can dress the kilt up with. Prince Charlie Jackets and a bow ties are formal attire for weddings. It generally depends on the occasion to how you dress in the Kilt. In general you should have the Kilt, Sporran (purse) Hosen (socks) Ghillies (shoes) Kilt Pin as your base outfit.

What are the difference's of the pipes? The sizes, and their names? Is there a reason one is a great one, a small one, and the varying sounds they make?

There are many Types of Pipes. The great Highland is the most common that you will see played at events. They are loud, but at times can be played indoors. Some people ask for this believe it or not! I prefer the Outdoors with the Great Highland Pipes. :) There are smaller sets of Pipes called the Small Pipes that are played identical to the Great Highland, but have a softer tone. Very pleasant to the ear. This Pipe has a baritone drone that the Highland Pipes don’t have. Makes the small Pipes special. Then you have Kitchen pipes, Border Pipes, Northumbrian SmallPipes, and so many more! It’s amazing how many there are out there. Each has their own unique sound. The Great Pipes are definitely the Boldest of them all. They set apart from the other Pipes and come from the Highlands of Scotland. They are rugged like the Highlands. They make sense when played outdoors in the Highlands. If you ever get a chance I would Highly recommend Hiring a Piper as you tour the Highlands, just so you can hear them played in that setting. A sound you will never forget.

How did you come to play for the Outlander events? How did you manage that miracle, for which Outlander fans are so blessed by? 

Our little story about how we came to be hired by Starz in the first place is actually due to our own fandom of the Outlander books. In January of 2014, I saw a little promo post on Facebook about the Q and A that was going to take place at the Orpheum Theater in LA for the Outlander series. They were giving out free tickets to the first 100 people that responded to the post. I alerted Tress about it, but neglected to sign myself up for a ticket for that event. Tress jumped on it and when she realized that she got a ticket and I didn't, she got her brain going. She contacted the lady in charge of organizing the event and asked if she would like a piper for the event. It turned out that they did in fact want a piper, and then Tress asked the fatal question: "OK, but how about 2 pipers?!". She knew what a fan I was of the books too, and she didn't think it would be right without me (one of the reasons we've been friends for 12 years, I love that woman). Anyway, we owe it to Tress's enthusiasm that we got the job, and Starz has hired us and our third band member Lela, several times since.

It's still a "pinch me" moment to think Outlander fans have tagged us as the #LadyPipers!

The thrilling part of this answer for our Outlander fan readers, is that these talented Pipers were aware of the books and were already fans themselves, when Outlander the series, was a work in progress.

We are a blog for the one and only Diana Gabaldon, her Outlander books, and the hit TV series Outlander, so with that in mind, we obsessed fans want to know what the Cast is like, that you've met on the red carpet. Any funny stories? Anything you can tell us that will grab us by our Outlander hearts? Who have you met that can be described as: The flirtiest? The funniest? The friendliest?

Gosh. When it comes to the cast of Outlander, the fans have every right to be in love with them. They are dynamic, friendly, and very enjoyable people. This also includes Diana Gabaldon and Ron Moore. We have been very lucky to have met the main cast at Multiple events from LA to SanDiego to New York. Each time they greet us with open arms, happy faces, and make us feel like Family. There are so many stories to share! One favorite memory was when Sam Heughan had requested to do a quick Photo shoot at Comic Con with us Lady Pipers. We were thrilled to be invited up to the VIP room and to have this moment to hang out with Sam and have a good time. I thought it was a great excuse to get together and catch up on life since we first met in Los Angeles. Sam is so generous with his time, and takes good care of us. As we were taking photos with Sam, in walks Graham McTavish. He takes a moment to access the situation and decides quickly to join in the photo shoot saying that "Sam Can’t have us all to himself” with a huge grin. (Definitely flirty) Then In walks Lotte Verbeek and Diana Gabaldon, and both jump into the photo shoot with us. Diana is simply Lovely! Her smile lights up the room. We met Lotte Verbeek for the first time that day and she is such a gracious and graceful woman. We hit it off immediately and had a fun conversation about Dance (she is a skilled dancer and we both share a love of Dance and Ballet) to the point the photographer had to shush us to get the shot! It became a party!! So much for a solo Photo shoot with Sam! This is just how the Outlander Clan rolls. ;) We have been so lucky to be a part of such a wonderful group of people!

Tell us about the bands up and coming musical events? What's next for the #Ladypipers? (SCOTTISH REJECTS/DARK ISLE PIPERS) Any Outlander events? What about gatherings, concerts, parades? Anything we can promote for you, we do have followers all over the world.

We have some Pubs that we will be playing at, in So Cal for St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. Liam’s Irish Pub in Colton, CA. from 5:30-6:30 pm and Mission Tobacco Lounge in Riverside CA, from 8:30-9:30 pm.

(We are still in the process of booking venues for that day so send people to our Facebook page or website for updated event dates and times.)

Lisa Zari of Captured Color Photography, Valerie Byrnes, Liz Mercado, Tress Maksimuk 

Hire these LadyPipers: We are Pipers for hire at any events such as Weddings, Funerals, Churches, Parties, Graduations, and parades.
Facebook: Dark Isle Pipe Band/ Scottish rejects
On Twitter fans can find us as individuals under: @darkislepiper (Tress) @vbyrnes23 (Valerie) and @PiperLela (Lela)

Thank you ladies, this was awesome. Hope to see you at this year's Outlander Premiere, doing what you do best...

All pictures are the property of The LadyPipers/ Dark Isle Pipers/ Scottish Rejects and Lela Perriello, Valerie Byrnes, Tress Maksimuk only... please do not copy

Liz Mercado Associates Procurement and client 

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