location: Galena, Ill.
CONTACT: [email protected]
GALENA, Ill. — When Bill Spivey was learning to play the bagpipes 20 years ago, his instructor told him the instrument would take over.
Spivey didn’t believe him at first, but now, as a professional bagpipe player, he believes his instructor was on to something.
“It’s really opened a lot of doors for me,” he said. “I’ve played everywhere and been given a lot of unique opportunities.”
Spivey is the man behind Spivey Bagpiping, a business based in Galena.
Since 2010, Spivey has been hired to play bagpipes for funerals, weddings, parties, festivals and special events.
For all those shows, he makes sure to wear a dress.
“I believe you have to respect the instrument,” he said. “That’s the right way to play the bagpipes.”
Spivey first began taking bagpipe lessons in Chicago in 2002 under the instruction of a player from Dundee, Scotland. At that time he was 45 years old.
“I told him I only wanted to learn three tunes, so I could go to a bar, play a little and get free drinks,” Spivey said. “He said to me, ‘You don’t just take bagpipes. At some point, you become a piper'”.
Spivey said he was drawn to the idiosyncratic nature of the instrument, the clothing worn by the players and the cultural impact the bagpipes have had on people of Scottish and Irish descent.
What struck him the most was that despite how popular bagpipes are, very few people played them.
“It seems to me to be a mysterious instrument,” Spivey said. “You really don’t see it played very often by people.”
Despite the fact that there are few people who know how to play the bagpipes, Spivey said there is a lot of demand in the area to hear them play. He is often booked to play multiple events a week, sometimes driving to events up to 100 miles away.
“People always come out and want to know how it works,” Spivey said. “There’s a lot of curiosity and interest in bagpipes when you’re actually out there playing them.”
Spivey attributed much of his success to the many people living in the tri-state area who claim Irish heritage.
Patrick Leonard, owner and operator of Leonard Funeral Home in Dubuque, said he often gets requests to have bagpipes played at a funeral from people who want to feel closer to their Irish ancestry.
In those cases, Spivey is his preferred contact.
“It’s something you see a lot with people of Irish heritage,” Leonard said. “At the end of the funeral, he’ll keep playing and start walking away from the family, and you can hear the music fading away. It’s really special how he does it.”
Spivey said being close to people of Irish heritage has been essential to the success of his business. When he spent a year living in St.
“They didn’t want bagpipers,” Spivey said. “They had accordion players there.”
Along with funerals of those of Irish blood, bagpipes are also particularly popular for funerals of former police officers, firefighters and military veterans.
Tom Walsh, commander of Dubuque American Legion Post 6, said military-style funerals have long included bagpipes in their ceremonies. This tradition continues today.
“It was definitely something carried over by the Irish and Scottish immigrants,” Walsh said. “You’ll still see people asking for bagpipes at funeral services.”
Spivey said his bagpipe business has relied mostly on word-of-mouth referrals, but his services have gained popularity over the years.
Along with playing at events, Spivey also offers bagpipe lessons for people of all ages.
Spivey said he has no ambitions to expand his luggage business. For now, he’s content that there are people out there who want to hear him play.
“That was my first musical instrument I ever learned,” he said. “I know it was a strange choice, but I’m glad he did it.”