Tuesday, Jan 15 2013 12:02 AM

Pipes and drums is a Tehachapi tradition

Related Photos

The laces on the shoe are designed to keep the shoe with the wearer, while walking through bogs, in Scotland. The perforations were designed to allow the water and mud from the bogs to drain and permit the shoes to dry. Photos by James Carmichael

Bear Valley resident, Steve Combs is a Drum Major for the Tehachapi Police Pipes and Drums. Photo by James Carmichael

Bear Valley Resident, James Carmichael is a Drum Major for the Tehachapi Police Pipes and Drums and participated in the recent Sea Side Games in Ventura. Photo courtesy of James Carmichael

Often seen wearing their traditional Scottish tartan kilts, the Tehachapi Police Pipes and Drums have been entertaining spectators with the haunting sound of the pipes and the crisp thunder of the drums for nearly a decade.

A spin-off of the Tehachapi Mountain Pipes and Drums originally started by Jack Pierce, the group consists of three pipers and two drummers including band manager James Carmichael, drum major Steve Combs and pipe major Travis Combs.

The quintet is often seen playing at special events on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veteran's Day, as well as performing for parades and military and birthday celebrations.

There is normally no charge for the group's presentation, as Carmichael says they just enjoy playing and being part of the community.

Picking up the pipes

Common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, the history of bagpipes is sketchy, but a poem written in 1598 refers to various types of pipes, including the Highland pipes.

Many legends also exist, being passed down through minstrels, but unfortunately the origins have been lost and much of the available information about bagpipes today is based on legend.

The legends continues to intrigue, enticing burgeoning pipers and drummers to pick up the pipes and join the ranks.

And while some bagpipes can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, a set of good-quality pipes from a reputable maker can be had new for about $1,300, making it an affordable hobby for those with the desire.

However, pipes made from ebony wood from Africa adorned with fancy silver or ivory ornamentation can be much more expensive.

"I purchased my pipes in 1972 for $220," said Carmichael. "Today they are worth $10,000. I have been asked to display them at the Tehachapi Museum."

Meanwhile, a drummer can get started for less than $100.

But perhaps the biggest challenge in getting started is not the cost of the instruments, but learning how to play them.

This requires hours of practice and Carmichael said it requires one to be in tip-top shape.

"Piping creates good health, as you can't smoke or drink and be a successful piper," he said. "It also requires daily practice, and that keeps you in shape physically."

Dressing the part

Possibly just as familiar as the sound of the Tehachapi Police Pipe and Drums is the group's traditional attire.

The historical costume dates as far back as the 16th century and is centered on the kilt, initially invented as noble attire by the Celts, doubling as a sleeping bag.

Commonly known as tartan plaids -- a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors -- tartans were originally made from eight-yards of fabric that was pleated by hand and worn to identify different Scottish clans.

The wearer had to lie down on the fabric, wrap it around and hold it in place with a belt.

Completing the colorful ensemble are four additional pieces.

A sporran or pouch worn on the front of the kilt that held a day's ration of food, a pair of shoes called Ghillie brogue's, and kilt hose with a small, singled-edged knife known as a Sgian Dubh, allowed a Scotsman to carry a weapon during a time when it was prohibited.

Today the items are merely decorative and kilts are machine sewn and much easier to get into. However, Carmichael said it still takes about an hour to slip into his blue-green tartan.

The age-old question

What do Scotsmen wear beneath their kilts? Most often times -- nothing.

Referred to as "regimental" style, the kilt is traditionally worn without undergarments, but only when it is appropriate said Carmichael.

Often worn for sporting events and public displays such as shot put, caber toss, high-step marches and highland dances, many of these situations involve movements that make the pleated kilt lift or spin out, making it inappropriate for traditional dress.

Such events include the 2013 Scottish Games, which will be held in Long Beach the second week in February.

For pipe bands, drum majors and athletes, the gathering represents the beginning of a new year of intense competition steeped in rich Scottish tradition.

For more information regarding the Tehachapi Police Pipe and Drums, visit

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