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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Music

Siegel shatters piper stereotypes


When people think of bagpipes they may picture some redheaded, bearded guy in a parade with a belly lapping over his kilt. But that's not Kimberly Siegel.

Siegel has played the Scottish highland bagpipes and the Irish Uilleann (pronounced ill-e-in) pipes for seven years and her experience as a piper is sure to erase the distorted image of plaid that many have in mind.

Siegel got hooked on her piping-hot hobby when a friend invited her to see a bagpiper at the old Dubliner pub in Walker's Point.

"I thought it would be really cool, and I went down and just fell in love with it and decided, you know what, I want to play bagpipes," she says.

And she wasted no time. Within the next few days, Siegel invested in a set of Irish pipes, lessons and plenty of time for practicing. Several months later she added Scottish pipes to her to-do list.

Both are ancient instruments, but that is one of only a few similarities. The Scottish bagpipes are played standing, create a very loud sound and are not easy to blend with other instruments.

The Irish Uilleann "elbow" pipes (Uilleann is the Gaelic word for elbow), are normally played sitting down, produce a much quieter sound and blend easily with guitars, pianos, you name it, because they are in the key of D, Siegel says.

Yet both of these instruments play a separate, but satisfying, role for Siegel.

"My Scottish pipes are my competition pipes," she begins. "I'm a much better Scottish piper, much more comfortable with them. I'll stand up in front of any Scottish piper and play."

Siegel practices her bagpipes three to four times a week, gives private lessons out of her home and travels to competitions all over North America. She'll do solos at the Waukesha Games over Labor Day weekend, too.

"My Irish pipes, on the other hand, because I've done a lot of learning by ear," she says, "I don't play the traditional instrumental type of Irish music, I really just have someone singing and playing along, I'll play one or two songs by myself if I have to."

"For me, they're more fun," Siegel adds. "I play with Barry Dodd here at the County Clare on Thursday nights. I like the energy of it. I like the songs, the lyrics, the ballads, the melodies; I've always kind of liked that."

Besides the music, Siegel says she likes the tradition of being a piper.

"I like being able to celebrate a little of my family's history and playing an instrument that really I think a lot of people don't know about."

Not to mention the friends she's made over the years. She has a regular fan base that comes to see her play most Thursdays at County Clare. Siegel seems to make piper friends wherever she roams.

"They've been with me since the beginning, coming to the Dubliner to hear me squeak out 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,'" Siegel laughs.

"I like the camaraderie. I like going to all the competitions and seeing people from different bands from around the country or up in Canada at the competitions, and you get to hang out and have some beers with them, it's really a good, close-knit supportive community."

And that's what Siegel says she'd like to see more of in Milwaukee, a "close-knit supportive community." She thinks the Scottish/Irish fellowship is growing a little bit "here and there," but wishes there was more local interest and support.

This physical therapist by day can be heard piping by night at Irish Fest, Aug. 19-22 or Thursdays at County Clare, 1234 N. Astor St., from 10 p.m. to midnight.

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