Scottish music at Battell Chapel and the Norfolk Library

Ken Storrs, left, on Scottish bagpipes and Andrew Thomson, right, on Irish uilleann pipes.

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Scottish music at Battell Chapel and the Norfolk Library

Norfolk resident Andrew Thomson will be presenting an evening of Scottish music at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at the Battell Chapel in Norfolk and Saturday, Jan. 27, from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Norfolk Library. He will be accompanied by Scottish bagpiper Ken Storrs for both events.

Friday’s show honors Robert Burns and is a paid ticketed event that includes haggis, whisky and poetry reading. Saturday’s event is part of the Norfolk Library’s Music Among Neighbors series and is free with registration required.

Thomson plays the traditional Irish bagpipe known as the uilleann pipes, as well as piano, vibes, percussion and other instruments. He’s also the proprietor of Pipeman Studios, a full-service recording studio on Route 272 in Norfolk. The name of his studio comes from the fact that he used to smoke a pipe rather than his musical talents on wind instruments.

At age 18, Thomson was the youngest member of the composition and arranging staff at the Armed Forces School of Music. He earned a Bachelor of Music in composition and percussion with a minor in anthropology from Ithaca College. Thomson teaches percussion and gives clinics, recitals and masterclasses around the country. He has collaborated with the internationally acclaimed choirs of Joyful Noise Inc. and the United States Marine Corps.

With Scottish heritage, Thomson was familiar with the instrument from a young age. “We trace our family back to both Inverness and Glasgow,” he said. “I’ve been a couple times and would like to make it a regular thing, if not for family then certainly for the culture. It’s a fairly difficult instrument to master, and I wanted a challenge.”

The Saturday concert will be primarily Scottish music, as a continuation of the Burns Supper being hosted at the Battell Chapel the previous night, although there will be some Irish music as well. Thomson and Storrs will also speak about Scottish music and culture.

When asked about the difference between Irish and Scottish pipes, Thomson said: “Scottish, Highland pipes are probably the most familiar to people. They are much louder, mouth-blown, and utilize three drones and a nine-note chanter that plays the melody. Irish uilleann pipes are played seated and are powered by bellows. They feature drones, a chromatic chanter with more notes and range, and on full sets, regulators, which are extra pipes with keys that can be played by the wrist to provide chordal accompaniment.”

Thomson and Storrs have been friends for some time. They sang together as children in a local choir, and after growing apart during their teenage years, reunited at a funeral where Storrs was playing. After discovering they both played pipes, they became close friends and colleagues, even working together at a sign shop in Torrington, Connecticut.

“Celtic music in general is a very communal genre,” said Thomson. “Sessions of musicians are very common and are a great way for strangers to play together. Many tunes are known widely and can be learned by ear or sheet music fairly easily. It’s not uncommon for Ken and I to trade tunes back and forth or figure out tune sets to play together in advance. This concert will not be an exception — we’ll probably figure out our set list the night before or during the actual concert, gauging the atmosphere and choosing tunes accordingly.

“The piping tradition isn’t just about music. It’s about community, pageantry, and it’s an opportunity to highlight a lesser known art form. Beyond the trope of deafening volume and kilts, Scottish music is a highly complex art form that is both a proud tradition and an intimate communal experience,” he added.

The supper at the Battell Chapel will celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns with piping, poetry, whisky,and fanfare. “I sort of consider it a black tie event to celebrate the common man,” Thomson said.


For Friday’s Burns Supper, contact the Norfolk Church of Christ for tickets and info: office@cofcucc.org

For Saturday’s concert, registration is recommended via the Norfolk Library website: www.norfolklibrary.org

To find out more about Thomson’s upcoming projects, see his website: www.pipemanstudios.com

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