The University of California, Riverside’s (UCR) Pipe Band has been bringing the Tartan Soul since 2000 when they were formally established. You may have seen them at commencement. Maybe you’ve seen them walking down a fourth of July parade. Perhaps you just so happened to walk by Lot 44 and happened to hear them all practicing; regardless of where you encounter them, the UCR Pipe Band will be part of your college experience at some point. 

“Proud, unique, honorable … We’re doing this for the students. We’re doing this for the alumni. We’re doing this for the UCR pride, and not only that, but outside of UCR, we get gigs for the cancer luminaries, and we’ll send a piper. They don’t get paid for those events, but we play for the remembrance of those and so it’s very honorable. And for memorials, or just ceremonies. That’s the honor and it’s just unique,” establishes David Huxley, one of the Pipe Majors for the band.

Dedicated to fostering an environment that welcomes and supports all, UCR’s Pipe Band features UCR students, faculty, alumni and local community members in both Scottish-style drumming and playing the Great Highland Bagpipe. Huxley himself is a student at California Baptist University and shares that “a lot of this is outside of UCR because we’re [a] nonprofit. We’re accepting of all walks of life.”

Danielle Henderson, the band manager and snare drummer for UCR Pipe Band, formally joined the band as a member in 2019. Prior to that, she had been involved due to her son’s position as a bagpiper in the band. She reminisced, “I was there all the time, bringing him into practices and bringing him to gigs, so a lot of the Pipe Band members talked me into becoming a drummer!”

The band is highly accommodating to beginner musicians, setting aside time every week to bring their members together to prepare them to play with the band. The bagpipe instructor and member of The Wicked Tinkers, Aaron Shaw, instructs a group of new pipers during practices. Prior to the main band practicing, the new pipers get together to play an instrument called a chanter, which is the part of the Highland Bagpipe that looks similar to a recorder and controls the melody. Huxley explains that the chanter teaches students comfortable hand position, little tunes and the musicality of the instrument.

“There’s a lot of technique to it. But again the beginning classes teach you hand placement, how to play tunes correctly, and it’s almost like a one-on-one with an instructor and then you upgrade to class two.” The Beginner Bagpipe Class meets Wednesdays at 5:00 p.m. at UCR Lot 44.

Hajun Lee, an incoming sixth-year biology student, is one such member of the band who has just begun practicing and playing. Around three months ago, Lee reached out to the band and shared his wishes of playing with them at his friend’s graduation. “They told me if I could play the four sets for the graduation, then they’d let me! And they did. Super nice of them. So starting right now I’m actually getting the full required repertoire memorized so I can finally say I’m officially part of the band.”

A considerable amount of effort into getting the band performance ready for both local events and competitions. Just recently the UCR Pipe Band took first place both Saturday and Sunday at the Las Vegas Highland Games and second place on both days of the Costa Mesa Highland Games in the Grade Five Category. Upcoming competitions include the Pleasanton Highland Games and Seaside Highland Games.

While the band may hold a competitive spirit, their main motive is to have fun. Highlighting the open and accepting community that UCR Pipe Band cultivated, Lee shares, “They are like some of the nicest people for real! I’m really shy. It takes a while for me to warm up, But all of them have just been like the most pleasant people, really encouraging. Especially the day of the graduation when I had to perform and I was super duper nervous. Every single one of them had some like little nuggets of wisdom or something really nice to say. It was really welcoming. So it’s been great.”

“If you can say words you have enough rhythm to join the band. You have enough rhythm to be a part of a family, you have enough to really move this thing forward and have fun!” Huxley declares. Outside of practice, the band is “just a fun, outgoing group. We have different events like pool parties. When we go to these Highland Games, we set up hospitality tents and we do a lot of sales for t-shirts or small memorabilia of UCR.”

Speaking of memorabilia, in 2001, the UCR Pipe Band designed the official UCR Tartan. According to their website, “The UCR tartan, designed by Linda Clifford, Josh Taylor, and Robert Conacher, was an instant success with the band and with the campus as a whole, where it quickly became an iconic representation of UC Riverside’s Highlander spirit.” Common UCR tartan appearances include Scotty the Bear, graduation stoles and even on summer orientation leader kilts! Otherwise, it remains a steadfast part of the UCR Pipe Band’s regalia.

Huxley expands on how the regalia has changed over the years, between the efforts of Susan Rose and drum major Owen Torres’s committee of quartermaster: “The two pieced together our uniform and we’re thankful that they helped pick these colors out. The neutralization of the tweed vest through the tweed sporrans (the pouch that functions as a pocket for a kilt) compliment the dark blue that every piper in general wears.” 

For anyone who is interested in joining the band, Lee shares, “Classes are like open to literally anyone, within UCR or outside of it. You can find [the UCR Pipe Band] website and they’ll give you a lot more information. There, you can enter the beginner classes and [an] instructor will get you started and get you on track to eventually audition and join the live band.”

And for anyone who is looking forward to seeing the UCR Pipe Band in action soon, on the Fourth of July, the band will be playing at the Idyllwild Parade near San Jacinto. So drop by and get into the Highlander spirit for their performance!