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School offers players place to pipe in peace

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At bagpipe camp, no one screams when you skirl.

Down wooded trails, in forest glens, three dozen pipers from around the country are droning and chanting their cheeks off this week at the North American Academy of Piping school in far western Maryland."I have a wife and two kids and they would rather I didn't play at home," Greg Martin, a school librarian from Kettering, Ohio, said Monday.

Other students and their four instructors agreed that the five-day camp for pipers and drummers offers, above all, opportunities to practice freely on an instrument that sounds to the unappreciative ear like a goose being tortured with a buzz saw.

"You either love it or you hate it," Martin said.

Those who detest it don't understand that pipers march to a different drummer than other musicians.

The bagpipe's chanter - the downward-pointing part that the player fingers - produces just nine notes in a scale different from the familiar "do-re-mi" progression. So music written for other instruments often sounds sour on the pipes.

School founder Sandy Jones, a retired U.S. Air Force Band pipe major from Mount Pleasant, S.C., said skirling - the screeching squeal that some people associate with bagpipes - is the sound of pipes poorly played.

"So many people have heard pipers play out of tune and not keeping the beat," he said. "They tend to blame it on the instrument instead of the player."

For $300 tuition, campers learn to finger their instruments properly, tune them, maintain the bags - traditionally made of sheepskin - and replace the reeds in their chanters and drones, the upward-pointing pipes that produce the steady background sound.

The campers ranged from beginners like Brendan Rauth, 11, and his dad, Mike, of Portland, Maine, to Scottish immigrant Gordon Fraser, a retired communications manager from Rivervale, N.J., who has attended for 15 years.

"When you come to these schools, you always learn something. If ever you shut yourself off, you're going downhill," he said.