Piping out the jams

 Though he has been playing the bagpipes on and off since he was a kid, Brian Molver began playing seriously in 1998.  (Neill Herbert)

Though he has been playing the bagpipes on and off since he was a kid, Brian Molver began playing seriously in 1998. (Neill Herbert)

As a kid, Skyline student Brian Molver says, out of the various types of music he was exposed to early in life, it was the sound of the bagpipes that resonated with him the most.

“I found piping the most pleasing,… irresistible to a point,” said Molver, whose heritage includes a mixture of Irish, Scottish and French-Canadian. “I really missed it when I was away from it.”

Although bagpipe music has always been an important part of his life, Molver, at around 8 years old, started his musical career not as a piper, but as a drummer accompanying the bagpipes and performing in kids’ bands.

“Once my hands were big enough to hold the sticks,” he said. “I started drumming for the bagpipe bands.”

Back then, it was his twin brother who played the bagpipes in his family. Molver said that he used to practice on his brother’s pipes.

“Every time he’d put his pipes down I’d grab them and see if I could play them better than he could, “And,” he added with a smile, “I always did.”

Molver, who has never had a bagpipe lesson, says that after accompanying bagpipe players for 20 years and watching their movements and fingering, piping came pretty naturally. He has been playing bagpipes seriously since around 1998 and although he considers himself a novice still, he has performed regularly for weddings, parades, wakes, funerals and even for a derby-bred Irish racing horse!

Molver’s music was recently heard at Skyline College for a fire academy graduation. Molver says he piped the recruits in and the new firefighters out.

Molver is taking a geology class here at Skyline to help him with his day job working with natural disasters as a civilian in the emergency services department of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office. Molver says he is one of two pipers who work there and they both frequently get asked to play for events.

Molver used to play for the Prince Charles Pipe Band in the ’70s and ’80s. One of his most memorable moments was playing for the real Prince Charles when he was visiting Berkeley in the 1970s. The band was named after Prince Charles’ ancestry, so for Molver it was a great honor.

“We didn’t see him, but I’m sure he heard us,” Molver said about the performance and noting that they did hear from third party there that Prince Charles enjoyed their music.

The last band Molver was a part of was the Irish Pipers Band in San Francisco. But Molver said he’s taking a break from performing in bands to leave more time for bicycle racing, another passion of his.

Molver’s favorite type of piping music is classical piping , known as “piobaireached,” which means “the art of piping” in Gaelic.

“They are very long, very intricate tunes with a lot of flavor,” Molver said. “There’s spice, there’s sweetness, there’s long tones with the meat of the music, and I find that very soothing to listen to.”

While the bagpipes can be beautiful, they also can be quite loud.

“It’s a rebellious instrument,” Molver said. “A lot of people don’t like it; they’ll phone in to complain.”

And because Molver lives in an apartment building, he says he never plays in the house. When asked how he maneuvers his cumbersome bagpipes in his small apartment, Molver responded, “with the grace of God.”

Molver says the Bay Area has been a bagpipe-rich environment for a long time, and there are always a lot of bands and competitions. While he’s not currently in any bands, he says he still plays for engagements and personal enjoyment and he says his family loves it.

Molver’s advice to anyone interested in picking up bagpipes is to play before you reach your teens, and then never stop.

On his own experiences with bagpipe playing, Molver says that he likes to quote the phrase by Robert Burns on how it takes “seven years to make a piper.”

“I think that I’m about at that right now,” he said. “But, I’ll never stop learning.”

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