By Lauren Wanko
It’s become the sound of St. Patrick’s Day. Bagpipers Bill Thermann and Mike McNally — members of the Pipes and Drums of the Jersey Shore Shillelagh’s — have each been playing the instrument for nearly 20 years.
How do you play the bagpipe?
“You have to have a lot of hot air,” Thermann said.
These three pipes are called drones and this piece is the chanter.
“There’s eight notes on the chanter which is the thing that the music comes out of,” Thermann explained.
Pipers blow air into the bag before they start playing.
“There’s a valve in the blow stick that prevents the air from coming back into your mouth. Once you hit a certain amount of pressure in the bag, I think it’s something like three or four pounds of pressure, then you squeeze and blow at same time and that starts the drones going. And then when you’re ready to begin the tune, you squeeze or blow a little bit harder and then the chanter will start up and you’ll get that note and then off you go,” Thermann said.
March is considered parade season for these bagpipers. They typically perform in anywhere from six to eight parades throughout the state and that doesn’t include special events and dinner parties. They say bagpipes have become so popular that they’ve been asked to travel to other states to perform and they’ve even gone to Ireland.
McNally says experienced bagpipers know the secret to maintaining their popularity — leave the crowd wanting more.
“When you walk away and people are saying, ‘I wished they would have played a little bit longer,’ then you know they have it and you played the proper amount,” he said.
The retired police officers surprised a Belmar employee in honor of her own retirement. She loves the sound.
“I think when you’re at a parade or anything it just kind of goes through your whole heart,” said Pat Zwirz.
The band practices twice a week starting in January. They even created their own holiday of sorts around one of their big rehearsals before the Belmar parade.
“We started Saturday before Belmar, the day before we started at St. Practice Day in Sprengles Bar. We play every tune that we’re going to play and it’s St. Practice Day,” said McNally.
“We just love celebrating March 17 every year and it just gets bigger and bigger. I don’t care what part of the country you’re in, it’s surprising that everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day — and around here the whole month of March,” said Irish Centre owner Aidan Rushe.
Rushe, who immigrated from Ireland about 30 years ago, says Belmar, Spring Lake and surrounding towns have long been referred to as the Irish Riviera.
“A lot of Irish moved from Jersey City and Bayonne down to this area and created a kind of Irish Riviera for the summer. We’re lucky to have that title and we’re proud of it and we look forward to keeping it alive,” Rushe said.
Does McNally feel like a rock star on St. Patrick’s Day?
“It’s pretty fun, especially playing at a bar and everyone is staring at you and cheering for you. They might buy you a drink or two, not that we take them up on that offer,” he said.
After all the St. Patrick’s Day parades, these bagpipers start rehearsing another set of songs for Memorial Day.