Every Tuesday evening, 53-year-old Todd Yoder, Goshen College’s major gifts officer, packs up his belongings and heads to the Fireman’s Union Hall in South Bend to play the bagpipe.
“To make life interesting you have to be willing to try new things,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to sit around on Saturdays and watch football, but I’d rather be challenged and learn something new.”
Yoder has quickly learned that this hobby has become a passion. “I love it,” he said. “I absolutely love the challenge of learning something new every single day. That’s what life is all about.”
Yoder picked up the bagpipe nearly three years ago after attending a concert in Pennsylvania. “I had always loved the sound, but I never could picture myself actually playing the instrument,” he said.
A couple weeks later in what seemed like a twist of fate, Yoder took notice of a feature story in his local newspaper, the Sunday News of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where a local bagpipe band was offering free lessons.
“I read the article and said why not? Life is about taking chances and trying new things, so I went for it,” said Yoder.
Playing the bagpipes did not come easy. “Just like any new experience, there is a definite learning curve that we all experience,” he said.
Growing up, Yoder was always interested in music by playing various instruments. From the age of 11, Yoder took a liking to wind instruments such as the alto saxophone.
“Starting off, the only similarity I picked up was the reading of the music,” said Yoder. “The thing that tripped me up the most was that I had to learn how to constantly multi-task while playing the bagpipe.”
“It’s all about air flow management and knowing how much pressure to place on the bag. That’s how the sound is made,” he said.
Yoder plays the Scottish Highland Pipes. A Scottish Highland Pipe is made up of five main parts: two tenor drones, great drone, chanter, blowpipe, and bag. One must blow into the blowpipe, all the while fingering the chanter and applying pressure on the bag. This action then produces the distinct sound out of all three drones.
Yoder currently meets and practices with his band, The Caledonia Kilty Pipe Band, every Tuesday. The Scottish bag pipe band was founded in 1954 and performs at various events including festivals, parades and Notre Dame Football tailgates. The band usually performs between St. Patrick’s Day and the end of football season, with the winter as their “off-season” because bagpipes are meant to be played outdoors.
Bagpipes are loud. Really loud. “My wife is not very fond of me practicing inside,” said Yoder.
The band is made up 12 piping members and 12 drummers from different cultures and backgrounds ranging from 10-60 years old.
“We have students, teachers, doctors and even an aerospace engineer,” said Yoder. “I find it so cool that people with such different backgrounds can get together and share a common hobby.”
This hobby comes with a hefty price, though. Apart from the time and dedication involved, bag piping is fairly pricey. “After you buy pipes, the kilt and wool uniforms to perform in, you can get to $3,000 pretty quickly,” said Yoder. “It’s definitely not for the timid. If you are paying such a high price, you probably are going to want to get pretty good.”
Yoder also enjoys entertaining others. “I love entertaining and seeing the smiling faces of those in attendance,” said Yoder.
Yoder also touched on the fact that playing the pipes has been a humbling experience. “It’s tough to fail, but I guess that’s just part of learning something new,” said Yoder. “It funny, because I started taking lessons at the same time as a 10-year-old and he learned and became quicker and better than me. It shows that skills are made simply through hard work and practice. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”
“For an Ohio farm boy, it’s definitely a little strange,” said Yoder when asked why he chose the bagpipe out of the thousands of instruments to choose from. “To be honest, my friends give me a hard time, but I really couldn’t care less.”
He said he now has a ready answer for a question that people will never tire of asking. “People ask me all the time, ‘Why in the world do you play a bagpipe?’ and my answer is always, ‘Why not?’ Everyone needs a hobby.”