St. Thomas School opens pipe band to females; searching for new drumming instructor

Published: May 31, 2011
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After a half-century tradition of restricting its pipe bands to only male pipers and drummers, the St. Thomas Episcopal School of Houston is opening its highly successful program to females.

While the concept of ladies-only pipe bands still exists, pipe bands limited only to men are rare today, and those that have such a policy do not generally admit it. St. Thomas School, which has won the World Juvenile Pipe Band Championship five times, has always been frank about its males-only tradition.

When asked why the school is only now opening the program to girls, world-renowned solo piper and St. Thomas Episcopal School Headmaster Mike Cusack said, “It’s just time. It’s been in the back of our minds for quite a while. At its inception, the program was based on the regimental pipe band model. The previous administrations held onto that model and it just became a tradition that boys played in the band and the girls danced. Historically, there has been very little interest among girls to play in the band. To put it in American high school terms, since we didn’t have an American football team, the girls saw the pipe band as their football team. But there is no good reason for girls not to be in the band, so the board has approved the change and we’ll see what happens. I’m sure it will be good.”

With roots that started with the British military, piping and drumming organizations were once the exclusive domain of men, but few organizations hold on to that ethic. The Royal Scottish Pipers Society of Scotland in 2008 caused a stir when its members voted to maintain its exclusionary policy against female members, a rule it continues to uphold.

St. Thomas Episcopal School is also looking for a new drumming instructor after the departure of Tano Martone, who moved to British Columbia. The instructor would join Drumming Director Blair Brown on the school’s staff.

“We are looking for someone with Grade 1 competitive experience, who is capable of teaching students of all levels,” Brown said, “and of course, we require that those applying for the position are able to live in Houston.”

He said that the new teacher would work with Band Director Lyric Todkill and piping instructor Harry Isensee, and that the job “boasts many perks,” including flexibility to teach privately, time off to teach at other schools or attend competitions and take school holidays and summer vacation.

Brown added that the best aspect of the job is “the passionate environment. Teaching at St. Thomas is incredible. The parents and surrounding community are very supportive of the band and the students are eager and hard-working. This is a fun place to be every day.”

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  1. AlMcMullin

    As a former band director at St. Thomas’, I congratulate the Board and Mike for making this decision.

  2. Batman

    Congratulations on the new model at St. Thomas. I’m sure the band will continue its tradition of fine music, and competition success.

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TIP OF THE DAY
Pipers: Blow your drones without the pipe chanter for a few minutes when you first take your pipes out of the box. Initially, the blades on your pipe chanter reed and the tongues on your drone reeds will be dry (not pliable), which will make the chanter reed stiff and often too much for the drone reeds – causing them to shut off. The warm air that is blown through the drone reeds will make the tongues more pliable and receptive to handling the strength of the pipe chanter. This applies to synthetic and cane drone reeds.
John Cairns, double Gold Medallist