The world’s largest funk-rock band … with bagpipes

Among the unusual instruments incorporated into the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band “Rock U” field show is bagpipes, and playing the instrument is Ezra G. Byrd, a freshman tuba player majoring in secondary history education from Mebane.

Ezra Byrd plays bagpipes as well as tuba in the Western Carolina Unviersity Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. Byrd performed in a procession at a reception (pictured here) in honor of Rose Parade president Jeff Throop and his wife Angel.

Ezra Byrd plays bagpipes as well as tuba in the Western Carolina Unviersity Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. Byrd performed in a procession at a reception (pictured here) in honor of Rose Parade president Jeff Throop and his wife Angel.

Byrd, a 2010 graduate of Cedar Ridge High School, said he wanted to learn to play after his band director at A.L. Stanback Middle School brought in a guest bagpipe player.

“I begged my parents to find me a teacher,” said Byrd. “Eventually, a man named Ruffin Hobbs, who is now deceased, became my teacher for the next four years. Most people are shocked at how much power is put into playing bagpipes – not only in their lungs but also the arm power to keep it going once fully inflated.”

Byrd went on to play with the Seven Oaks Pipes and Drums, where he competed for two years, but never dreamed he would be playing them in a college marching band someday.

Byrd, who also plays tuba, baritone and didgeridoo, said he was inspired to join the WCU band after learning more about the group from a close childhood friend, WCU trumpet player Jay Chamberlain, and seeing the band perform at Cary Band Day.

“I knew from that day forward that I was going to play in the WCU band – that I had to, but I never expected it to be for something that I love as much as my bagpipes,” said Byrd. “My first home football game was terrifying. I was unsure of how to stand, how to act, the giant ‘U’ in the show was wobbling back and forth, but then I was given the cue to start playing and my old habits began to kick in.”

Bagpipe player Ezra Byrd rehearses on Dec. 20 in the giant "U" of the Western Carolina University Pride of the Mountains Marching Band's field show "Rock U."

Bagpipe player Ezra Byrd rehearses on Dec. 20 in the giant "U" of the Western Carolina University Pride of the Mountains Marching Band's field show "Rock U."

“It’s like nothing had changed from the crowds I would play for in Loch Norman, my very first bagpipe competition. But from them, wow. I had never seen a crowd so excited. They cheered and yelled. I could literally feel their energy. It was, despite all my crowd experience, exhilarating.”

“This is my very first year here at WCU, and I have to say that I’m loving every bit of it,” said Byrd. “My didgeridoo is still at home. I unfortunately left it there because I don’t have time to practice here at school, and I can do most of my exercises without it. Also, I had to leave most of my favorite items at home due to my parent’s fear that I’ll lose or break them.”

Byrd said his home in Mebane is a small place that some might think is the “middle of nowhere” and feels more like a series of farms and neighbors than it does a town. “But I can’t say that I would have traded it for anything, or anywhere else,” he said.

Byrd will play bagpipes for the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band’s show “Rock U” Dec. 30 at the Tournament of Roses Bandfest (a portion of proceeds benefit the WCU band!) and tuba in the Rose Parade, which begins at 11 a.m. EST Jan. 1.

4 Comments

  1. Bill Studenc
    Posted December 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Interesting synergy… AC/DC used bagpipes in its song “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).” Now the Pride of the Mountains, which plays another AC/DC song in its field show, uses bag pipes in its performances. Plus, the video is a sort of parade.

  2. Renee K. Morgan
    Posted December 24, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    The bagpipes are such an integral part of our introduction. Ezra, you rock them! 😀

  3. Terry G. Martin
    Posted December 24, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    That’s my boyfriend, haha. You rock Ezra :3

  4. Julie Terrell
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I am so proud of my nephew, Ezra. He really “rocks” those bagpipes in the show. Thanks so much for posting so much information about the band’s trip to Pasadena and for posting the show on facebook every week, so I could see Ezra play. I really wanted to come to a game, so I could see him in person, but that didn’t happen, so I watched him on your facebook page every game instead. WCU Pride of the Mountains marching band ROCKS!!!!