A! Magazine for the Arts

Bagpiping Teen Plays to Raise Money for Summer Camp

December 3, 2007

***** This story appeared in the Bristol Herald Courier on Tuesday, Nov. 27. *****

BRISTOL, Tenn. ? Amanda Kershaw often draws a crowd when she practices playing her bagpipes.

Not long ago, the 15-year-old was practicing in her front yard when a passing car screeched to a halt. The driver had a request ? "Amazing Grace." "Of course I had to oblige," the redhead said jokingly. "It really makes everyone smile to hear the bagpipes."

Piping is a big part of her life, she said, but she also has a black belt in Taekwondo, plays the piano and is home-schooled with her four brothers and sisters.

And for the first time, it's her responsibility to come up with the $500 needed to pay for a bagpiping camp in North Carolina next summer. She looks forward to the week all year. To that end, the teen has a business card designed by her sister she distributes to pick up gigs at funerals, weddings and parades. And on the days she doesn't have a job, she just sets up in places like downtown Bristol or along the road in local towns. She plays for tips, which aretossed into her open instrument case.

"She doesn't make too much, but it contributes to her fund," said her mother, Cindy Kershaw.

The teen's interest in piping started just two years ago, when she got a practice chanter ? an introductory instrument that she says looks something like a recorder ? and an instructional book for Christmas.

The right-hander taught herself to play from the book. And now she plays "lefty" because she mirrored the book pictures and as a result learned using the wrong hands. "I had to get a special bag," she said.

Now her friends at camp tease her and call her "Lefty."

Amanda moved to Bristol with her family three years ago from Branson, Mo. Spending her childhood in a tourist town gave her an opportunity to perform at a young age. At age 5, she and her 7-year-old sister performed on "The Jim Stafford Show" so she's comfortable in front of a crowd, her mom said.

Now, as the only piper in the family, Amanda plans to teach her two youngest siblings to play. That way, she said, "there will finally be other people that understand me. It will be great, we'll have our own little mini band."

Amanda explained that bagpipes are fickle instruments: While you have to tune a piano just once a year, bagpipes have to be tuned every half hour, she said.

And the expensive instruments, which run around $1,200, are so sensitive they can require retuning if the player shifts from grass to asphalt.

"Bagpipes, in and of themselves, are unusual," she said. "It seems different to pipe in Bristol, but at camp it's totally normal."