Piper Ryan Behnke received an IMDA Educational Grant in 2011 to study with the Balmoral School of Piping in the summer of 2011. The Balmoral School is one of the most prestigious in North America and their summer program offers a full week of small group instruction locally at Macalester College. As it happened, there were no other students at Ryan’s level, allowing Ryan the fantastic opportunity for individualized instruction. He was able to pursue his interest in Piobaireachd, the complex extended compositions which include elaborate formal variations. This genre of music for the pipes is well known and taught in Scotland, but not so commonly taught here in America, as it requires a personal connection – hearing a recording or having someone sing the music to you. (Wikipedia tells us that “traditionally, many pipers prefer the name Ceòl Mór, which is Scottish Gaelic, meaning the "Great Music," to distinguish this complex extended art-music from the more common kinds of popular Scottish music, such as dances, reels, marches and strathspeys, which are called Ceòl Beag, or "Little Music"). Instructors Willie McCallum and Brian Donaldson gave him a rare opportunity to study this genre, sometimes called the classical music for the Highland bagpipes. Ryan says that working with these outstanding musicians, he started to “really understand how the music works” – an outstanding experience.
Ryan, who is from Hastings, Minnesota, is a senior at Augsburg College, pursuing a degree in Music Therapy. Ryan has been playing the bagpipes for about nine years, and first became interested when a friend inherited a set of pipes and enjoyed playing so much that he encouraged Ryan to try them as well. In addition to piping with the Macalester College Pipe Band, Ryan plays several other instruments: piano, guitar, horn, and whistles. Ryan is also studying the uilleann (Irish) pipes with Patrick McCormick (a 2006 IMDA Educational Grant recipient)and the Great Northern Irish Pipers Club. If you’ve attended the IMDA/Great Northern Irish Pipers Club Celtic Music Open Mic Nights, you’ve heard Ryan on uilleann pipes with friends as part of the traditional group “Trout in the Milk.”
Ryan serves as Pipe Major for the Grade V (beginning) pipers with the Macalester Pipe Band as his schedule permits. As Pipe Major, Ryan helps the newer members learn the basics of competing in a pipe band and prepares and leads them on the competition field. He also pipes for Highland dancers and for the Royal Scottish Country Dancers.
Ryan brought his new skills to IMDA Honors Lar Burke in November 2011, piping Lar into the hall for the celebration and playing the bagpipes as part of the program.
The Irish Music and Dance Association is pleased to help Ryan continue his study of the bagpipes.