Manhattan College Pipes and Drums Keeps the Rhythm of Tradition Alive
Generations of friendships form the 33-year-old band, which kicks off its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in early March.
At 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, two-and-a-half weeks out from St. Patrick’s Day, people begin to trickle into Thomas Hall 517, joking and greeting each other with slaps on the back and friendly nods.
They chat with one another, sharing stories from their week and hopes for the weeks ahead. Nearly half an hour passes, and the group still hasn’t assembled completely. It may not seem like professional behavior for a band that has nine upcoming parades in the next month, but perhaps there’s some method to the madness.
Because at 8:30, the two-dozen friends pick up their bagpipes, circle up, and the room quiets to the sole tap of a foot on the floor, finding a rhythm. Out of nowhere, a deafening chorus of drones hits the air. A box of bright yellow earplugs in the closet is disregarded.
The tunes fall into place — the Marine Hymn, Amazing Grace, Minstrel Boy — and it’s clear why the Pipes and Drums have sounded this good for three decades.
“The relationships come first,” director Mike Hogan ’91 says. “The music is something that we all just happen to have in common.”
18 to 80
Countless relationships have formed in Thomas 517 since the band’s beginning in 1981, when a handful of interested students picked up the pipes under the guidance of Brother Kenneth Fitzgerald, FSC, former chair of the mathematics department and moderator of the College’s Gaelic Society, and the musical instruction of Mike’s father, Captain Robert Hogan ’75, ’82, a member of the NYPD’s Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, who was taking master’s classes at the College.
By the fall of 1982, the small group spread interest by playing on the Quad during free periods and at basketball games. They made their debut performance in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade the following March.
Mike Hogan’s first career parade was that day too. He tagged along during the band’s formative years and joined as an eighth-grader.
“It was nice to be around them,” he says. “I was like a little brother.”
A wide range of ages is something that has always defined the Pipes and Drums, which is open to students, alumni, employees and friends of the College, and well-represented by first-generation Irish Americans.
“We’re 18 to 80 years old,” says piper Tom Fitzmaurice ’90, who met his wife, Teri, in the band.
“The band is like a self-help program,” Mike Hogan adds. “For anything you’re doing in your life, there’s someone who just did it, and they’re more than willing to help you do it.”
Every other September, new band members are recruited and put through an intensive six-month learning program, so they’ll be ready by March.
“We figure once we get you on Fifth Avenue, you’ll be hooked,” Mike Hogan says, painting a picture of the energetic crowds that stand six-deep on the city sidewalks. “You won’t be the strongest player, but you’ll be playing 10 tunes with the band.”
Fifth Avenue, it seems, is every piper’s nirvana.
The Pipes and Drums lead the hundreds-strong Manhattan cohort each year, carrying on the tradition and title as the first college to march in the 252-year-old New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“Every practice gets more exciting, especially when we start to march in Smith Auditorium,” says piper Liz Miller ’14, who will play in her first New York City parade this year. “Finally now, getting to meet up on St. Patrick’s Day will be awesome.”
“You can’t help but feel real proud to be a Jasper as you walk up Fifth Avenue,” pipe major Mike Scire ’13 says. “I’ve been a part of this for four years and many more to come. It’s a true honor to be a part of something so special.”
While few experiences can rival Fifth Avenue, band members have a number of milestones close to their hearts.
In March of 1995, the Lord Mayor of Dublin invited the Pipes and Drums to take part in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Hosted by the Dublin Fire Brigade, Br. Kenneth and a group of 15 traveled to Ireland that spring and marched up the famed O’Connell Street.
“Some of our Dublin friends showed up in New York years later and linked up with our students,” Br. Kenneth says. “The reciprocity was wonderful.”
For Br. Kenneth, one particularly touching experience was the 1997 Piper’s Ball in Smith Auditorium, held in honor of his 50th anniversary with the Christian Brothers. The band performed The Br. Kenneth Ballad, an original tune written by Robert Hogan, who served as director of the Pipes and Drums until the following year.
“They presented me with a mace to lead the group with,” says Br. Kenneth, now retired at 83 years old. “I have it in my room here, and I intend to have it buried with me.”
The mace, a recognizable symbol of leadership, was a fitting gift for a founding father.
Fresh off their first parade in Rockaway and a performance that earned them Best Bagpipe Band in Yonkers, the pipers’ schedules are packed with appearances in White Plains, Throgs Neck, Eastchester, New York City, Naples, Fla., Mamaroneck and Rockville Centre.
“You don’t even have to pick up the phone, you just know to be there,” Mike Hogan says. “The band is steeped in tradition — from meeting at Rockaway on the first Saturday of March, to playing music older than any of us.”