Andrew Carnegie had a personal bagpipe player on his payroll and the university that bears his name shows its Scottish roots through its signature green and red tartan plaid and mascot, Scotty.
Those are not the only ways Carnegie Mellon University upholds its Scottish heritage. Tucked deep in the halls of CMU’s University Center is a small room packed with bagpipes and drums. It’s where Andrew Carlisle has had his office for the last seven years.
90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar visited Carlisle’s office to talk about his experiences as director of the undergraduate piping degree program. It’s a post without a long tradition but it does have a unique distinction.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
ANDREW CARLISLE: It’s the first place in the world to recognize the bagpipe as a legitimate instrument that you could study academically. It was started in 1990 by the bagpipe instructor here at the time, by the name of Jimmy McIntosh. He cam from Scotland. How it came about, really, was the principal oboe for the Pittsburgh Symphony was the oboe professor in the school of music here, as well, and he started getting intrigued with the bagpipe and started taken lessons and he figure out that the bagpipe was a lot more difficult to learn than the oboe and a lot more challenging. So he proposed to the faculty that they should take on the bagpipe because they already had a pipe band here at Carnegie Mellon.
MARK NOOTBAAR: This is not a new instrument. Why 1990 before it got that type of respect?
CARLISLE: I’m not too sure. I think mainly its perceived as a folk instrument or a traditional Celtic instrument. And I think the academic side of music has traditionally been classic music so it didn’t really fall into that category so it was maybe looked aside. But there’s lots of degrees in ethnomusicology and folks studies and that kind of stuff…