NFA student bagpipe group records CD

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Mar. 22, 2011
NFA junior Colleen Cournoyer plays the bagpipes at the NFA Bagpipe Band's March 12 concert. Photos contributed by Morgan Miller. - Contributed Photo

The sound of the Scottish highlands has come to Norwich Free Academy, and now that sound is spreading, thanks to a new CD.

NFA’s Bagpipe Club, formed in 2009, recently released its first recording, “Sounds Familiar.” The event was marked with a March 12 concert, during which the 10-member ensemble performed its unique brand of traditional, modern and original Celtic music on pipes, pennywhistle, fiddle, piano, percussion and guitar.

Response to both the concert and the CD has been positive, said club adviser Jean Miller. “Sales went well,” Miller said. “The kids were opening the CDs and people were asking them to sign them, so they were having the time of their lives.” She said that the CD got some airplay on local radios stations around St. Patrick’s Day, too.

Bagpipers Colleen Cournoyer and Dan Pisowloski, both NFA juniors, are the core of the group, which they founded freshman year with the help of NFA English teacher and piping aficionado George Rutherford. Miller, who works in campus security, said she got involved the following spring, when she heard the skirl of the pipes drifting across campus.

“My family is Scottish and I love the sound of bagpipes,” she said. “It was like a little piece of heaven all of a sudden.”

Miller took over as club advisor after Rutherford moved away. Now the group includes musicians of many sorts, including four “pipers-to-be,” said Pisowloski. They’re learning fingering on the chanter with an eye toward taking up the full pipes.

The ensemble has a varied repertoire, Pisowloski said. “We do everything from run-of-the-mill pipe band stuff to Irish and French music,” he said. In addition, the CD includes some original tunes composed by Pisowloski and Cournoyer.

A piper since age 9, Pisowloski said that his interest in the instrument was sparked on a family trip. After asking around, he found a bagpiper in his hometown of Canterbury. “It was kind of a miracle,” he said.

Both he and Cournoyer study the pipes with instructor John Sullivan, play in bagpipe competitions and perform in the Manchester Pipe Band. Cournoyer plays with the Mystic Highland Band, as well.

Miller said that the CD was recorded at Sonalysts Studio in Waterford, where technicians have worked with such musical luminaries as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. “They treated the kids exactly the same way,” Miller said of the Sonalysts staff. “For that day, they were stars.”

The group played at last year’s graduation and may do the same this year, said Miller. “They’re hardworking, wonderfully musically gifted kids,” said Miller.

She doesn’t play the bagpipes herself, but that may just be a matter of time. “Dan’s been after me to at least start,” she said. “It’s an instrument that takes some dedication.”

“Sounds Familiar” CDs are available at the Backus Hospital gift shop in Norwich and at Meiklem Kiln Works in Bozrah.

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