SMC student first to play bagpipes for graduation ceremony
Spartanburg Methodist College has lots of musically inclined students – young people who grew up taking piano lessons, learned their favorite rock songs on guitar, or played in their high school marching band. Their talent and creativity add to the vitality of the SMC student body.
Still, among SMC’s musician-students, Brady Wakefield stands out. He plays the bagpipes.
It’s not an instrument that kids hear much on popular radio stations. Schools don’t typically offer it as part of the arts curriculum. And there aren’t a great many music shops that offer bagpipes lessons.
For Wakefield, it was his family’s annual trips to the Greenville Scottish Games that got him hooked. “I thought it was the most unique instrument ever,” he said.
Wakefield, an SMC freshman who grew up outside of Spartanburg and was home-schooled, started on bagpipes at age 12. He joined the City of Greenville Pipes and Drums band, which brought the support of more experienced musicians as well as opportunities to perform at Scottish festivals and fairs and other special events. Wakefield soaked it all up and advanced on the instrument quickly, winning 15 medals at various contests and exhibitions.
It wasn’t an inexpensive musical pursuit. Brady started on a $700 set of bagpipes. He eventually upgraded to a $1,200 instrument. That’s in the range of a high-end guitar.
His parents have been supportive all along. “My parents were extremely excited just because it was such a unique instrument that people usually don’t have an interest in,” Wakefield said.
Indeed, it’s instrument whose tone is widely considered by American listeners to be shrill. Wakefield understands the perception, but he believes listeners should keep an open mind.
The issue is, in part, the quality of performance. As he explained, it takes a great deal of work to become a proficient bagpiper. “I know it can be an annoying sound, but it can also be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard. If played well, the sound of the bagpipes can be so smooth.”
The SMC community will have the chance to hear what it’s all about when Wakefield gives a special performance at the college’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 5. He is excited to play the instrument for friends and classmates at the college during the student procession and after the ceremony. And, he said, “It is a great honor to play at such an important occasion for others who have worked to accomplish the dream of higher education.”
“We’ve had a tradition of having a bagpiper play for commencement for over a decade,” said Jill Johnson, SMC registrar and graduation organizer. “It’s quite an exciting sight to see and hear as our graduates and faculty march across campus to the ceremony. The sound of the bagpipes can be heard all over campus, and it still gives me chills every year. It’s an honor to have one of our own students play this year for us, and I am sure it will be a special event for Brady and his family.”
Wakefield decided to attend SMC after visiting the campus in high school and meeting students and professors. “SMC had a real community feel, and I was impressed with all of the teachers and how at home I felt,” he said.
Wakefield’s sister, Landon, was drawn to SMC, too, and decided to join him at the college. The two have remained close. “We have enjoyed being able to experience college together as brother and sister with the benefit of helping each other along the way,” Brady said, adding, “It is always nice to have the support and understanding of a sibling when you’re facing a tough college class.”
Wakefield studies graphic design – a field he plans to pursue after completing his degree at SMC. But while he’s not aiming for a career putting on bagpipes concerts, he says he has plans to stay active with the instrument and the culture surrounding it.
“I plan to keep playing,” he said. He’s had to scale back his work with the City of Greenville Pipes and Drums band while focusing on his coursework, but said, “I still love performing for events such as the SMC graduation, and I hope to have more opportunities like that.”