PLU student uses bagpipes as training wheels for dedication


One Pacific Lutheran University woman shines far beyond her peers as she shows the true dedication required to play what is arguably the most physically demanding instrument: the bagpipes.

Kayli Felbinger concentrates wide-eyed on playing the bagpipes. Photo credit: Erika Fischer

Kayli Felbinger concentrates wide-eyed on playing the bagpipes. Photo credit: Erika Fischer ’15

While Kayli Felbinger, senior, is not a bagpipe aficionado, she claims a unique spot in the music world. The bagpipes are an instrument designed for the physically resistant, and as a 5-foot-4 woman, Felbinger had her work cut out for her when she decided on her instrument of choice during her junior year at Ferndale High School in Ferndale, Wash.

For Felbinger it was a whim, but one that was well thought out and has stuck with her for years. “You know what sounds really fun?” Felbinger said. “Bagpipes. You know what I’m gonna do? Bagpipes.” Felbinger went online and found the pipe band that is located in Bellingham, which is near her hometown. She has been dedicated to the company for the last six years. The dedication shown by Felbinger shines through in everything she does: from technical directing an upcoming theatre production to tuning her craft in the metalworking shop, her hard work always pays off.

The bagpipes require exceptionally strong bicep, lip, neck and diaphragm muscles, and that’s just filling up the bag with air. The process occurs before every bagpiping session so that the pre-filled air can be expended to make the beautiful music. This doesn’t happen easily, as keeping consistent air pressure and flow intensifies the muscles and can be difficult.

It becomes such a strenuous and complicated process that it takes the average bagpipe student about a year to upgrade from the chanter, a type of bagpipe training wheel, to the actual pipes themselves, although Felbinger was an exceptional case in that she upgraded after only seven months.

Kayli Felbinger demonstrates the chanter, something she hasn't touched in months. Photo Credit: Erika Fischer

Kayli Felbinger demonstrates the chanter, something she hasn’t touched in months. Photo Credit: Erika Fischer ’15

The chanter is the equivalent a recorder, an instrument used to practice fingering that makes shallow and unforgiving notes. The bagpipes, along with the chanter, only have nine notes, so it’s essential to play them correctly, which requires a lot of focus. The looks of concentration, along with the traditional Scottish clothing make the pipers stand out in a crowd.

“It was a big deal for strangers,” Felbinger said, “we were like Mickey Mouse characters.” Although Felbinger does not appear to be a Minnie Mouse doppelganger, the phrase may aptly describe Felbinger. The 21-year-old bagpiper is a theatre major at PLU and works in the scene shop in her spare time.

Felbinger has been committed since 2011 to many PLU theatre productions, but her biggest accomplishment will be technical directing “Passion Play,” which opens Dec. 10, 2014.


Categories: Art & Music, Arts and Entertainment, Other, Profiles

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