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Retired Canton teacher finds joy in learning how to play Scottish bagpipes

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CANTON — Martha E. Maine has played many roles in her life and the list keeps on growing.

These days, when she’s not re-enacting a Civil War battle or scuba diving, the 60-year-old may be bellowing out tunes on her Scottish Highland bagpipes.

She started taking lessons two years ago and has since joined the Emerald City Pipe and Drum Band, Syracuse.

“I’ve had a Celtic heart forever,” Ms. Maine said as she sat on the front porch of her 8 Prospect St. home, dressed in Scottish kilts, bagpipes at her side. “I’ve always loved traditional Irish and Scottish music. It brings out so many different emotions in me.”

Learning how to play bagpipes is just the latest adventure for Ms. Maine, who retired in 2010 after teaching physical education at Canton Central School for 34 years.

Neighbors near her home joke that the sound of playing bagpipes has improved markedly over the past two years.

Some actually look forward to her early evening practices. Mrs. Maine claims that her ability has improved so much that the dogs in Canton have stopped howling when she breaks out her bagpipes.

“Now she’s really good,” said Kathy Curro, a neighbor. “We love it. We take our wine out on the back porch and it’s a concert.”

Learning to play well is a long process that begins with practicing nine basic notes on a mouthpiece called a chanter. The remaining notes are called embellishments or grace notes.

Her bagpipes also include a bass drone, two tenor drones, a pipe chanter and the leather bag that she blows with air to play.

“The music is magical,” said Ms. Maine, who feels a strong connection to her Irish ancestry. “There’s a lot of depth to the music.”

Playing a musical instrument was a lifelong goal for Ms. Maine, who found the time after retiring from full-time teaching. She still substitute teaches at Canton’s Banford Elementary School.

Ms. Maine takes hourlong weekly lessons from Hollis Easter, of Potsdam, a member of the Celtic band Frost and Fire. He encouraged her to perform her first recital in May 2013.

She soon realized that learning to play well would take hours of practice and years of lessons. Pipers claim it takes seven years to play well, she said.

To improve her skills, last July she attended a weeklong camp at the North American Academy of Piping and Drumming, Boone, N.C. The camp involved taking piping classes three times per day, and she plans to attend again this year.

“I met a lot of like-minded people and pipers of all different abilities,” she said.

Her ultimate goal is to play with the Catamount Band, a group based in Montpelier, Vt., that travels to Scotland every other year.

Although she’s found enjoyment in her musical instrument, Ms. Maine said playing the bagpipes is not for everyone.

“You have to love the pipes because they’re so difficult to learn,” she said. “If you don’t have a deep down love for these pipes, you’ll be throwing them right out the window.”

She continues to be actively involved with Civil War re-enactments and is always setting new goals for herself.

“I want to learn about as many different things as I can,” she said. “There’s so much out there. I’m a passionate learner.”

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