County Pulls Pipe Band Funding after 56 Years

Nationally Award-Winning Pipe Band Lost Critical County Funding and Support as of Jan. 4 due to Low Rockville Student Participation and Budget Constraints; Now the Band Will Not Be Sponsored or Recognized by MCPS


Photo courtesy of the RHS Pipe Band Facebook

Sarah D'Souza, Editor-in-Chief

For 56 years the RHS pipe band was funded by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). However, MCPS has cut all ties with the nationally award-winning band as of Jan. 4.

The band originated in Robert E. Peary HS in 1961 as a music class taught by teachers of the U.S. Air Force Band. After the school closed down in 1984, the band came to RHS. While the composition of students in the band has changed over time, the name of the band remained the Rockville High School pipe band.

After director Lisa Frazier did not receive an MCPS stipend (the salary for coaches and some club sponsors), the pipe band found out that MCPS stopped supporting them. The letter, written by the MCPS Director of High Schools from the Office of School Support and Improvement Brian Scriven, was sent Jan. 5.

“Though we desire to recognize the accomplishments of the Rockville High School pipe-band, due to low Rockville student participation and budgetary constraints, effective immediately, January 4, 2017, the pipe-band activity at Rockville High School will not be funded, recognized, or sponsored by Montgomery County Public Schools,” Scriven said.

There are no prerequisites to join, and of the 25 members, only two are RHS students: junior snare drummer Nicholas Shropshire and freshman bagpiper Ulric Erickson. The rest are from four middle schools and eight high schools across the county.

“Low Rockville student participation made it difficult,” pipe band Booster Club President John Bartels said. “I believe another reason is a lack of visibility within MCPS so not enough people are aware of our continued success and community involvement.”

Last season, the band won first place against professional bands in the Colonial Highland Games in Fair Hill, the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and the Central Virginia Celtic festival. They participate in the community’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Rockville Memorial Day parade, the Marine Corp Marathon in D.C., RHSa�� annual International Night, the Rampace 5k, etc. Anyone can request the pipe band’s performance by contacting Frazier at [email protected].

Sophomore Leo Wagner did not previously know that RHS had a pipe band, and said that no one he knows had ever mentioned knowing anything of the band before.

“Shouldn’t it be called the Montgomery County pipe band or an MCPS general pipe band?” Wagner said after finding out there are only two RHS students. “I mean I think that if there are 25 members, that’s definitely enough to justify funding, but I don’t necessarily think it should be a Rockville High School elective or sport.”

On behalf of the band, Bartels sent a testimony to the Board of Education (BOE) for the Operating Budget to request that the board reinstate funding.

“…We are perceived as the “Rockville High School Pipe Band” instead of a “Montgomery County Youth Pipe Band.a�� This causes confusion inside and outside the band,” Bartels said. “Since our pipe band is more analogous to the various “all countya�� musical ensembles for band, orchestra, and jazz, we would benefit from being treated as such. Please reinstate our funding as soon as possible so we can continue our tradition of excellence.”

Along with MCPS funding, prizes and donations, the band has funded drums, uniforms and other band-related supplies. When recognized by MCPS as a high school band, they were able to practice at RHS for free, and also received a storage room and special considerations and opportunities. They will still be allowed to practice at RHS for the rest of this year.

“We do have other sources of funding beyond MCPS, but losing their funding leaves a large hole in our budget,” Bartels said. “It also provides a level of stability, pride, and accessibility that only a school band can provide. Think about your varsity football team compared to a club football team.”

Shropshire joined with no experience, and then learned how to play the snare drum. He has been a member since the summer before fifth grade, two years after his brother joined, and said he plans to continue playing for the band until he graduates from high school, whether or not MCPS reinstates funding.

“For the future, I think there’s a few things that could happen,” he said. “It could either be a wake-up call that we need to be more active in recruiting people and making a presence, or it could go downhill as the current band members graduate and we could just merge with another local band.”