Ever since Edinburgh’s Eagle Pipers Society was resurrected eight years ago, similar social groups have been springing up, including in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and, most recently, St. Louis.
The brainchild of St. Louis-based piper Matt Pantaleoni, the St. Louis Drones Club meets on the second Monday evening of each month at Dressel’s Pub in the city’s Central West End. As with the Eagle Pipers, the emphasis is on music and camaraderie than competition, and voluntary Highland pipe-playing of all standards is welcomed. Each session features a spot from an upper-grade player, a piobaireachd and impromptu performances by anyone who wants a tune.
After launching in January, the Drones Club has been a success with consistent strong turn-out of pipers coming from near and far, as well as many curious outsiders.
St. Louis is a somewhat unlikely hotbed of piping in the American Midwest. The area has supported a competitive pipe band since the 1970s. St. Louis Caledonian is thriving in Grade 4 and, in addition to Pantaleoni, the area has produced several notable pipers and drummers, including Christian Rhoads and Charlie Cablish, and many who have moved to the area over the years like Chris Apps, Martin Docherty and Mike Kotch.
“We started the Drones Club with the idea that pipers should have an off-season venue where they can present their music and keep their fingers going in a non-competitive environment,” Pantaleoni said. “It’s easy to let the piping slide in the long winter months, but the Drones Club gives people the opportunity to work up some new tunes and present them each month. We also wanted to expose the public to quality solo piping.”
The Drones Club also brings in guest performers from far outside of St. Louis. Lyric Todkill of Houston has played, and Pittsburgh’s Andrew Carlisle and Nick Hudson from Houston will perform at the January and March meetings, respectively.
Because of the success of the Drones Club, the St. Louis Highland Games agreed to stage their Professional solo events at the venue on the Friday night of the games weekend.
“We didn’t know what to expect at our first meeting last January,” Pantaleoni continued. “I thought 15-20 people would be a wild success. We ended up with more than 65. We had people who had played pipes or drums in St. Louis for 50 years and they all concurred that nothing like this had ever been done in our city. The closest thing was a series of annual concerts by the old Invera’an Pipe Band 25-30 years ago.”
Pantaleoni said that they hope to add an educational aspect to the meetings, in which a famous historical composer is chosen and advanced players present some of their music. “Not only will it be a good challenge for the pipers, but it will pass along some of the piping lore surrounding the tunes and the great characters who made them. It will also make the evening even more accessible for non-pipers.”
They’re also looking at a weekend workshop conducted by a top-tier piper from Scotland, who would also deliver a Saturday night recital at a more formal venue.