Bemidji’s Bagpipe Brian: Local man enjoys his side job of playin’ the pipes
BEMIDJI — Brian Solum is a realtor. He’s a wrestling coach.
“I usually don’t tell people right away and when people find out, they are like ‘That’s weird,’” he said.
Brian, often referred to as Bagpipe Brian, started playing the bagpipes while living in the Twin Cities.
Solum plays the Great Highland Bagpipe, which is a typical Scottish bagpipe rather than the Irish model, which is called the Uilleann pipe that is often heard in movies.
Solum soon connected with the Macalester College Pipe Band, which has a strong Scottish history and has had a bagpipe band for as long as he can remember, he said.
While still active with the Macalester band, Solum remains busy playing the pipes in the Bemidji area, including teaching private lessons, and performing at weddings, funerals and other events. The big day of the year, of course, is St. Patrick’s Day.
“I get to be a rock star for a day,” said Solum, who played at Neilson Place, J.W. Smith Elementary and in “The World’s Shortest Patrick’s Day Parade” in downtown Bemidji on Monday.
Solum’s found older generations have more of an appreciation for Scottish ancestry that’s associated with the bagpipe. Their requests typically include traditional Scottish tunes.
“When people know I’m coming, there will be half a dozen wearing their tartan or plaid as a blanket or a hat,” he said.
While the younger generation typically requests more modern or rock ‘n’ roll songs, “they are always asking for ‘Free Bird,’” said Solum, referencing the southern rock song by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
While he’s performing, Solum usually wears traditional bagpiping garb including a shirt, tie, vest, kilt with a belt, long socks and pair of ghillie brogues, which are servant shoes in Gaelic, as the historical piper was often seen as a servant.
A sporran, a pouch around one’s waist with a chain, is often included in the outfit. “I’m sure, historically, it had some sort of purpose, now its just for car keys and my cellphone,” he said.
Although not Scottish, bagpiping has allowed Solum to appreciate specific aspects of the culture. “I love Scotch whisky, it’s lead to a single malt scotch collection, it’s lead to listening to the music and bands,” he said.
Through the years, Solum has seen bagpiping and all things Celtic recede and increase in popularity. “I think in the early 2000s, there was a surge in the interest in Celtic things,” he said.
People have approached him during performances with the desire to learn to play the bagpipes. After a few lessons, however, most realize they’re not committed either in the amount of time or money.
Playing bagpipes isn’t cheap. When purchasing, you can go low end or top end, he said. “If you want an instrument that I think can be tuned, played in public, and sound well you are going to have to spend at least $1,200 dollars.”
Beyond the musical talent required, the art of bagpiping can be athletic, especially when it comes to marching and with the controlling one’s breathing as well as the tone of the pipes.
The proper way to hold a bagpipe has the bag under your left arm and being supported by the elbow, with the three drones (pipes) going over the shoulder. The arms come around and hold chanter while the person blows into the mouthpiece.
Although he could not see taking on bagpiping as a full-time job, Solum, who owns Realty Sales, admits it is a big part of his life. His four sons enjoys the music, although they aren’t interested in learning how to play, “but sometimes they are kind of embarrassed when dad shows up at school wearing a skirt,” Solum said.