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.
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.”
“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.