Bagpipe Course Now Offered at MMA

Missouri Military Academy cadets looking to add to their musical repertoire have a new option of study this year — the bagpipes. Bagpipes are the newest addition to MMA’s music curriculum which includes the MMA band, jazz band, choir, marching band and orchestra.

Why bagpipes at MMA?

Bagpiping has a long history in the United States, dating back to the country’s birth when Scottish immigrants brought them over. Music from the bagpipe symbolizes respect and honor, and pipe bands encourage teamwork, confidence, discipline, friendship, a sense of pride in dress and appearance, and emphasize tradition — all of which are particularly fitting with MMA’s military education hallmarks.

“Pipers have been renowned throughout military history and have left an indelible mark,” Pipe Major Brian Donaldson, music instructor for the bagpipe course, said. “It is a great pleasure for me to see MMA cadets playing this unique instrument diligently and enjoying the experience.”

Cadets who have chosen the class cite the desire to learn something new.

“I thought it would be fun to try something different,” said Cadet Lucas Santiago from Chicago, Illinois. Santiago also plays the cello, trumpet and drums.

“I wanted something new,” Cadet Eli Asberry from Columbia, Missouri, said. Asberry plays the percussion, and he says he enjoys the small class size for MMA’s bagpipe class.

What it’s like to learn the bagpipes

Cadets who participate in the bagpipe course learn to master the art of playing the Great Highland Bagpipes. First, cadets are taught finger discipline, learning a series of finger dexterity exercises using a practice chanter – a double-reed woodwind instrument that mimics bagpipes but requires less blowing, making them easier to play and practice with. They also learn theory of bagpipe music, and how to read and write music into staff notation. Eventually, cadets progress onto the bagpipes. They begin by familiarizing themselves with the instrument, learning the blowing technique and how to maintain steady pressure throughout the air reservoir (bag), before going on to play music.

“Cadets tend to think that playing the bagpipes looks easier than they actually are, but it’s actually one of the most difficult instruments to master,” said Donaldson. “However, when we get down to the nitty gritty, I find that they rise to the challenge.”

Bagpipes and college opportunities

In addition to teaching a complex new skill and nurturing their character development, cadets will have a number of opportunities to benefit from this bagpipe program as they progress into college. Not only does their knowledge in bagpipes qualify them for niche scholarship opportunities, many universities offer bagpipe studies, including Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Lyon College in Arkansas and The University of California Riverside.

Growing the MMA bagpipe program

“I am proud to say [MMA's bagpipe program] is doing extremely well. However, to be able to move forward, we need to be able to buy bagpipes. For that, we need the assistance of the MMA community,” said Donaldson. “We also need to be able to buy the kilted uniform, which includes a jacket, belt, kilt, sporran, socks and shoes. Any assistance would be appreciated and help contribute to cadets’ unique learning experience.”

Parents, alumni and friends of the Academy looking to support the bagpipe program and the Academy Pipe Band can help by donating funds for the purchase of pipes and kilted uniforms here.

Play the video below to learn more about growing the bagpipe program.

About Pipe Major Donaldson

Highly qualified, Pipe Major Donaldson leads the bagpipe course with over 30 years of piping experience.

Born in Cardenden, Scotland, Donaldson was taught to play the bagpipes by his father, a renown piper and teacher, Andrew Donaldson. Following his formal piping education at the Institute of Piping and the Army School of Piping, he apprenticed as a bagpipe maker in Edinburgh at Inveran House under the guidance of master bagpipe-maker Jimmy Tweedie. In 1998, he became Pipe Major at the Army Training Regiment Glencourse. Eventually the military centralized all army piping and drumming, and Donaldson served 22 years of military service at the Army School of Bagpipe & Highland Drumming at Inchdrewer House in Edinburgh.

Throughout his military career, Donaldson has become one of the most renowned pipers in the British Army. His awards and recognitions include the Gold Medal Oban, the Gold Medal and 2 Clasps at Skye, the Bratach Gorm (The McCrimmon Banner) London, 2nd in the Gold Medal at the Northern Meetings, the Donald Macdonald Quaich, the MSR Argyllshire Gathering and more.

He has also participated in noteworthy engagements such as the Edinburgh Military Tattoos, Berlin Military Tattoos, Trooping’s of the Color (Her Majesty the Queen’s Birthday Parade), Beating the Retreat Pageants on Horse Guards London, and State Opening of Parliament Parades. On several occasions, he has also played for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at State Banquets in Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and at dinners on Balmoral Estate. 

For more information about the bagpipe program, contact Donaldson at


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