William Bulkley walked in front of the judge’s table and started playing his bagpipes.
The hum of Bulkley’s pipes filled the room as he slowly marched back and forth. The judge watched him intently and took notes.
A few minutes later, Bulkley finished his performance, thanked the judge and walked away.
While the performance looked and sounded fine to untrained bagpiping observers, Bulkley said afterward he wished he had marched more.
“I just was pretty bad on that one,” Bulkley said with a smile.
Bulkley and about 20 other pipers on Saturday embraced bagpiping and Scottish history at the 2012 Red Stick Regional Eastern U.S. Pipe Band Association Solo Piping Competition. The pipe-off was held at First Presbyterian Church on North Boulevard.
The gathering was the second of its kind in Baton Rouge, said Rosemary John, the event’s chairwoman and a board member of the Eastern U.S. Pipe Band Association’s southwest branch, which includes Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
John, also a member of the Baton Rouge Caledonian Pipes and Drums, said the competition brings awareness about Scottish culture, which includes bagpiping.
All competitors wore kilts.
“We really want to spread the word about piping,” John said.
The musicians played Great Highland Bagpipes, a 32-part bagpipe type that is native to Scotland, John said.
The participants warmed up in practice rooms to prepare their instruments, which can take up to 15 minutes because the instrument’s reed must be wet before it can be tuned, John said.
John said pipers participated in four different events: a march in 2/4 time, a march in 6/8 time, a lively dance genre called a “strathspey-reel” and a classical form called “piobaireachd” that can last anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes. Pipers win a certain amount of points based on their place in each genre, John said. Whoever accumulates the largest point total at the end of the day is named piper of the day.
Judges evaluated pipers on several criteria, including tuning and tone, expression, execution of their music and tempos.
The participants must play their songs from memory while marching back and forth at the same time, John said.
Bulkley, who has been playing only for about six months, said he participates in competitions to build his skills quickly.
He said he and his wife Lara, who also competed Saturday, began bagpiping years after their marriage ceremony, which featured bagpipes, in Scotland in June 2007.
“We just thought it was a nice way to relax,” he said.
Stan Masinter, a Baton Rouge resident and pipe major of the Baton Rouge Caledonian Pipes and Drums, said he went on to play the pipes for more than 20 years after hearing somebody play them at FestForAll in 1990.
“When I heard the pipes, they just really spoke to me,” he said.
Masinter said he played a strathspey-reel, which he called “uniquely Scottish,” during Saturday’s contest.
Masinter, like Bulkley, said he participates in competitions to improve his playing.
“You don’t enjoy competition,” he said with a laugh.
Masinter, again like Bulkley, thought he could’ve done better on Saturday. He said he made a few note errors he’d like to have back.
“It wasn’t my day on that event,” he said.