Today’s member of the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers to be featured is Ted Hales who is originally from Santa Barbara in California.

CLASP is the National Piping Centre’s circuit of graded solo piping competitions for adult amateur pipers. More information can be found on the CLASP website here.

Q. Where are you from and how did you get into piping?

I was born in Santa Barbara, California in 1962 and grew up in the Santa Maria Valley, which is an agriculture area north of my birthplace. After a career in the US Army, I settled in Humboldt County, California and I currently live in the wee city of Blue Lake.

•Ted with Jack and Terry Lee at Redding Bagpipe Competition in 2019 where Ted won the Grade 3 march.

While growing up, the only exposure to bagpipes for me was to see a band on TV in either the Rose Parade or the Macy’s Parade on New Year’s Day, which I liked very much. But there was no real way to find a band, much less a tutor in those days for people not plugged into the local Scottish cultural groups which were not very visible to the average person.

I became a musician in high school, playing guitar, bass guitar and drums for folk music and rock bands and singing in choir, but bagpipes were not in the picture, being rather exotic. I did see a band in person at a college ROTC dinner in 1981 and it made a big impression on me. But it wasn’t until a visit to the UK with part of it in Scotland in 1987 with my family that I really got the bug and became determined to find an instructor when I got home.

Q. Who is your current teacher and what are lessons like with them?

Jack Lee is my current instructor. His teaching is very relaxed but exacting and precise. His “ear” is amazing.

Q. How was your early years as a learner piper?

I bought my first set of pipes from Jimmy McIntosh on the advice of my then instructor in 1988. I started with the Green Book, but my teacher moved away after about six months and I was without tuition for quite some time. I had a cassette tape of Dysart and Dundonald Grade 1 band that I listened to a lot, as well as most of the Tannahill Weavers and Battlefield Band records. I just tried to sound like them, but I picked up a raft of bad habits. After about five years I stopped playing and didn’t get back into it until 2015 under Liz Tubbs and then Jack Lee, both of who really motivated me to correct all my bad habits and refine my playing. I also started Grade 4 solo competition in 2016.

Q. How many hours per week do you spend practicing?

Around five to seven hours.

•Playing in the CLASP Live Online in 2020.

Q. Can you tell us about your CLASP journey so far?

I had heard of the CLASP via pipers I had met at other Stateside contests who had participated at Piping Live!, but until the pandemic and their pioneering online contests it remained out of reach. When I found out about the online contests I joined of course. I had just been moved to Grade 2 in WUSPBA, so was rather nervous, but Margaret and the others have been nothing but supportive and kind. I’ve even won a prize or two with my piobaireachd playing, which is very gratifying.

Q. Have you ever played in a pipe band?

There was a very rough parade band I was a member of in the 1980s and 1990s and we sounded rather terrible. But, like the dancing bear that is notable not for its gracefulness, but that it can dance at all, we were quite pleased that we even had a band capable of making it through a parade. No one had the same kilt, we simply couldn’t afford it.

•Ted leading the Humboldt Highlanders Pipe Band.

When I got back into piping in 2015, it was in the same area I began 30+ years before. Some of the original members of the old band were still in the area so with the addition of some new people, the band, now the Humboldt Highlanders Pipe Band, became active again and I became the Pipe Major. Since then, we’ve gone from five pipers playing Green Hills six different ways on unmatched chanters to a Grade 5 competition band in WUSPBA all dressed alike, playing the same chanters and we just keep getting better and better. It’s been quite a journey.

Q. Is balancing work/family/piping challenging?

I have a small farm with some sheep and cattle, so the main challenge is having coverage for the daily chores if I am out of town for a contest.

•Ted’s farm and his sheep in Humbolt County.

Q. What music are you currently listening to?

I still listen to a bunch of Scottish and Irish trad bands, as well as various Grade 1 bands and top solo pipers for inspiration. I also have a taste for Bluegrass, rock and folk music of the 60s and 70s.

Q. What is the best piping experience you have ever had?

With the band it was playing with the Chieftains and playing at the Worlds are big ones, but accompanying Stuart Liddell on my bodhran while he piped for a ceilidh standing on a couch in his socks I think is my top choice.

Q. What are your piping goals for the future?

Getting my band up to the next grade, as well as improving enough to get into Grade 1 solo are my big goals.

•Ted playing at Redding Bagpipe competition in 2019. Photo: Patty Hood Photography

Q. If someone was considering joining the CLASP, what advice would you give them.

I tell everyone I can about the CLASP online contests and encourage them to do so. The level of judging is quite fine and you can only get better as a piper.

Q. What pipes do you play and what is your set up of reeds and moisture control. Why do you prefer that set up?

I play Colin Kyo pipes made by Murray Huggins. His chanter is very comfortable under the fingers. I’ve used G1 Platinum, Lee & Sons, Warnock and Melvin chanter reeds with great success. I use Balance Tone HR drone reeds. The tone of this pipe is fantastic. I used to play Hardies with success, but I didn’t get compliments on my tone from judges like I do with the Colin Kyos. My moisture control is a split stock with tube trap, which works quite well in the USA.

Q. Apart from piping, do you have other interesting parts of your life that you would like to share with the readers?

I am a retired Senior NCO of the US Army, serving for 26 years total in the Military Police branch, with various deployments to include a combat tour in Iraq. I also was a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle technician and service writers for a few years after the Army career ended.