Band Overview

In support of the mission of the Music Department at NC State, the Pipes and Drums provides educational and performance opportunities for student and community participants through a variety of musical experiences.  An academic course is offered which includes not only the basic skills of playing the pipes but also basic music theory as it pertains to piping, history of the instrument, and training in practice techniques. The pipe band serves as a cultural resource for the university and the greater community through 30 to 40 annual performances and presentations offered by the student/community band both on and off campus at parades, festivals, commencement ceremonies, golf tournaments, and concerts.  The band is committed to continually reaching for a higher standard of play as it enters multiple competitions a year throughout the Southeast.


The Beginning

1970 Pipes & Drums

In the fall of 1968, Ted Tonkinson, an NCSU graduate student, ran a small ad in the Technician seeking those interested in forming a bagpipe band.  Among those responding to the ad was another graduate student, Bob Howland, both an accomplished piper and an experienced percussionist.  Together, they started the NCSU Pipes and Drums as a student activity.  With the help of former music department chair J. Perry Watson, the new band became a performing group in the NCSU Music Department. Mr. William Muirhead, Sr., a native Scot and successful builder in the area, donated money for ten sets of Henderson pipes and four drums to get the band started.  The band was made up entirely of NCSU students who, in just a few years, were performing advanced, intricate music.  When Tonkinson moved away in 1970, Howland assumed the director role.  In 1977, the band opened up to people from outside the University which allowed several strong alumni pipers to continue playing.  One was John Sprague, an alumnus of the first bagpipe class in 1968.  When Howland left in 1977, Sprague assumed the director role.

Years of Growth

Grade IV and Grade III Bands at Loch Norman 1995

Under the leadership of John Sprague, the numbers rose from one band of 12 musicians in 1977 to three bands (Grades III, IV, and V) of 42 musicians by 1997.  During this period, the band was a consistent winner on the competition circuit, entering ensembles in Grades II, III, IV and V over the years.  In 1986, the Grade II band traveled to Scotland where it competed in four contests, including the Scottish Championship and the World Pipe Band Championship.  The band kept a busy schedule of 30 to 40 performances a year.  Regular performances included Raleigh’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an annual Music from the British Isles concert on campus, the annual golf tournament at MacGregor Downs Golf Course, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, and dedications of North Carolina state museums.

Mandate to Include More Students

Music from the British Isles Concert, NCSU Campus 2008

In 2005, the City of Oaks Pipe Band merged with the NCSU Pipes and Drums, forming one strong band for the triangle area.  As more and more community people filled out the ranks, the percentage of students slipped.  In 2006, the band was in danger of losing its tie with the University unless a minimum number of students were on the class rolls.

An appeal was put out for students to register for the Beginning Bagpipe Class and within one year the numbers were well above the minimum.

In conjunction with the pipe band’s 40th Anniversary Celebration in 2008, a Pipes and Drums Scholarship Endowment was established by alumni and friends as a means of attracting experienced pipers and drummers to attend NCSU and play in the band.

 Description of the Band Today

About 40 musicians are divided amongst three groups:  a beginning chanter class; a performing group that does not compete; and a Grade IV band.  Of that number, 25% are current students, 15% are NCSU alumni, and 60% are community people ranging in age from 11 to 65.  The band performs frequently throughout the year, in parades, festivals, concerts, golf tournaments and graduation ceremonies.  The competing band enters about 5 competitions each year at highland games.  The band enjoys performing on campus for annual spring and fall concerts, for an NCSU football game every other year, for the NCSU Homecoming Parade and other events such as Founder’s Day and the ARTS NC State Gala.  The band depends on paying performances to be self-sustaining.  It also appears at benefit walks and festivals, Special Olympics, and school programs as a community service.


Our Tartan

Carolina – 1992 to present

The Carolina Tartan was adopted as the state tartan by the North Carolina Legislature in 1991.  Because the band is part of North Carolina State University, it seemed appropriate to wear the state tartan.  In the early 1990’s, muted colors were fashionable and the tartan was altered with brown in place of an olive green.  The tartan is custom woven by D.C. Dalgliesh, Ltd. in Selkirk, Scotland.  The kilts are made by J. Higgins, Inc. in Lenexa, KS.

Red Scott – 1969 to 1992

Red Scott was chosen because it was red, the school color for NC State, and because it was similar to the Lennox tartan favored by Mr. Muirhead, the benefactor who provided funds for pipes and drums to get the band started. The Red Scott tartan was woven by Burlington Mills of Raeford, NC. The initial kilts were made by Scottish-trained kilt makers at The Clansmen in Toronto, Canada.