EBelaire breathes new life into pipes silenced by health problems
If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then Bruce Lazeroff of Delaware has responded with the EBelaire, the first commercially available mobile air supply that allows pipers to play the Highland pipes without using their lungs.
A software engineer, Lazeroff was inspired more than 11 years ago to develop what would eventually become the EBelaire to help a friend get back on the pipes. David Rankine was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Rankine’s playing days appeared over.
But Lazeroff promised him that he’d work to get him back playing the pipes. A decade later, Lazeroff had finally perfected the technology and manufacturing process to get Rankine back on the pipes. That year, they played together again in the Grade 5 Manchester Pipe Band of Connecticut.
“I sat with [Rankine’s] wife during his surgery and said, ‘I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but some time some way I’m going to get him back up playing pipes,'” Lazeroff said. “Based on that promise, I thought about it for a good 10 years. Finally I found something about two or three years ago that allowed me to actually see the answer.”
Lazeroff kept working to make the product more powerful, lighter, quieter, controllable and adaptable, and earlier this year, the product came onto the commercial market.
Watch our feature video with Bruce Lazeroff below.
He brought out EBelaire in May 2023. Priced at US$725, the product is catching on, bringing back pipers who previously thought their playing days were over.
With a rapidly aging population in piping-rich countries, the product could be a saviour for those who wish to keep playing but are unable due to physical disability.
EBelaire is not only aimed at pipers with breathing disabilities, Lazeroff says, but can be for other medical problems that prevent blowing a full set of pipes, and it’s also a potential aid for selecting reeds, calibrating drone reeds, and making the transition from practice chanter to full pipes.
The piping world has been inundated over the last three decades with innovations designed to make the fickle instrument easier, steadier, drier and more predictable. But never before has a product come on the market that eliminates the heretofore intrinsic mouth-blown nature of the Highland pipes.
No moisture presumably means the pipes will only be susceptible to heat and not humidity. It will also be blown at a perfectly steady pressure. These aspects could present a dilemma for competition-oriented piping and drumming associations.
Pipers and drummers who are blind or depend on a wheelchair have been welcomed to compete. But what about pipers using a technology that eliminates moisture and maintains a consistent pressure – two of the most challenging aspects of the temperamental instrument?
“I don’t want to get away from the fact that it’s doing so much good for people in making music and competing and having fun with the instrument.” – Bruce Lazeroff
The Eastern United States Pipe Band Association and the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario have already permitted the use of the product in competition, so far only case-by-case.
Whether written rules on using the product will be developed is to be seen.
Could the product open the door to pipers applying for dispensation with a note from their physician saying they cannot play without the device? Could there eventually be separate solo or band grades for EBelaire users to level their competition playing field?
Lazeroff believes that discussion is premature and adds that EBelaire is not only an invention from necessity but of passion.
“Right now, for where we are, this is a new product,” Lazeroff stresses. “I don’t want to get away from the fact that it’s doing so much good for people in making music and competing and having fun with the instrument.”
EBelaire plus its add-on bite switch activator that enables pipers to start and stop by, as the product suggests, biting down at the right time, together cost about US$800.
A previous version of this article erroneously stated that David Rankine was a piper in the Scottish military. Rankine never served in the military.