A Bit About Bagpipes with J. Avery Head

J. Avery Head Is All About Bagpiping…

J. Avery Head, a bagpiper for over five decades, was introduced to the instrument when he  started the 10th grade. He had already started his music path playing piano and French horn. His best friend, Ron Smallman, with whom he played French horn in band, also played bagpipes. Avery became not only interested in, but enamored with the instrument — and decided to start learning it. His pal Ron taught him the ropes and pretty soon Avery found himself joining the Balmoral Highlanders, of Syracuse, NY.

Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band.

“I learned to play quite well since Ron and the pipe major of the band, Tom Hinchey, were both excellent and demanding players. “

After graduating high school, Avery attended the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio. They had pipers that often led the band.  There, under the auspices of the band director, Stuart Ling, Avery led the group and set up a program to teach pipes to the students.

“Our band grew from initially five pipers, to 12 by the time I graduated. “

Graduate school took Avery to the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he earned an MS in chemistry. With the degree under his belt, he went to work for the Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Michigan, where he met his wife, Beth, while playing for a community theater production of Brigadoon. The two soon wed and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Avery started his career teaching high school chemistry. After several years the couple moved to Liverpool, NY where he taught for 30 years at Liverpool High School.

“I bagpiped my way through all of it.”

The Heads had only been living in the area for a year before Avery became involved with the local Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band.  He was elected pipe major (director) within six weeks, and has been directing the band ever since (1974). The band was initially a Grade 3 pipe band, but has since become a Grade 4 or 5 band, depending on the playing personnel each year thanks to Head’s influence. Since then, he’s taught a number of players over the years, and some of them have developed into very noteworthy players and performers. Avery also has competed in numerous solo competitions over the years, and has earned a number of medals.

As director, Avery Head has always striven for the band to be competitive. He’s helped them to reach a level that has allowed them to compete every year in programs and competitions spanning Canada, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut. Avery attributes this success to learning new music, striving to play it correctly, and playing perfectly together — and notes how the group’s progress is evident in their performances. The Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band has performed in many different venues aside from competitions, including a Rod Stewart concert, hockey games, baseball games, the NY Empire State Games, the Lockerbie Memorial, college graduations, and many parades in the area.

A Quick tip From J. Avery Head

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Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, producer, editorialist, artist, activist and music fan. He still plays every day.

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