A CLASP piper profile with Joe Hardy

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Today’s member of the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers to be featured is Joe Hardy who is from the foothills of western North Carolina, and has lived there most of his life.

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. How did you get into piping?

My dad was very proud of his Scottish ancestry. He took me and my sisters to the Highland games at Grandfather Mountain and he encouraged me to learn to play. But, I was more interested in hunting, fishing, football and girls. When I came home from my military service in Vietnam and once I graduated college, I became interested again in learning the pipes. This would have been around 1977. I had a Hardie practice chanter and a copy of the College of Piping Green Tutor book (I still have it – it cost £1.50). I found an instructor in the old Charlotte Caledonian Pipe Band just up the road in Charlotte, NC. He taught me the basic fingering and embellishments, got me onto the pipe with about six or seven tunes and then turned me over to Burt Mitchell, Pipe Major of the Charlotte Caledonian Pipe Band.

•Joe leading the 4th July parade at Fort Mill, South Carolina in 2015

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

Currently I do not have a teacher. Once I joined the Charlotte band, I was encouraged to attend a summer piping school. In the summer of 1983, I attended the original Balmoral School in Greensboro, NC. There I had tuition from Jim MacIntosh and Murray Henderson. Then, for about 20 years between 1987 and 2007, I attended the North American Academy of Piping at Valle Crucis in the North Carolina mountains. During those years, I had instruction from Sandy Jones, Hamilton Workman, Colin MacLellan, and Ed Neigh. Now that I am back competing more regularly, I am looking for a tutor to help me smooth out some of the rough spots.

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

When I first began to learn it seemed that most of my time was spent just trying to catch up to where the other players were in our band. Most of them were very good pipers and it seemed like I would never get to their level. But – I was stubborn and I stuck it out. Fortunately, all of the  tutors that I studied with, including our Pipe Major, understood this and they encouraged and enabled me to succeed.

•Joe at Grandfather Mountain Games in 1981

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

I practice every afternoon for at least 45 minutes to an hour.  My practice sessions usually involve some fingerwork on the practice chanter followed by playing over my tunes. In preparing for contests I play over my tunes just as I would before a judge. But I also tend to take pieces of tunes where I’m having trouble and play over those separately on both the practice chanter and on the pipe.

•Joe at Loch Norman Games in 2022

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

Well, I started playing in the CLASP Online Competitions in January of 2021. I had competed in the EUSPBA in Grade 2 for a number of years up until about 2011. Over time, I was successful in getting on the prize lists fairly consistently. But in 2017, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. As a result of this, my hands and wrists became very swollen and painful. It looked for a time like my playing days were over. Thanks to a couple of really good doctors, I was able to get into remission. Then along came the COVID pandemic and we were pretty much stuck inside. So I started to think about piping again and got involved in the CLASP. Since that time, I have found it difficult to get on the prize lists. I think a lot of that has to do with the long layoff caused by my illness. I have had to be quite realistic in acknowledging the effect it has had on my technique. During the NPC’s 2023 Piping Challenge, Dan Nevans talked about how Andrew Wright went seven years without winning a single prize but then went on to win both gold medals in the same year. Just thinking about that has kept me encouraged. In May, 2023, I finally broke through and got a third in the Grade 3 “Live Online” Piobaireachd event. Then in February, 2024, I got a first prize in the Grade 3 “Live Online” Piobaireachd. So, I can truthfully say that my CLASP journey has been rewarding.

•Charlotte Caledonian Pipe Band in 1979

Q. Have you ever played in a pipe band?

Yes. I played with the Charlotte Caledonian Pipe Band in Charlotte, NC, from 1979 until 1990 when the band broke up. During some of those years, my teenage daughter played in the drum corps. Since that time, I have concentrated on playing solo competitions – Grade 2 and over 50 here in the EUSPBA.

•Charlotte Caledonian Pipe Band in 1990

Q. What music are you currently listening to?

Every week I listen to The Piping Hour from KKRN.org. It’s a great show presented by Dr. Steven Rooklidge. It features both piping and Gaelic song and generally starts and finishes with a piobaireachd. And, since the demise of Pipeline on the BBC, I have been listening to Gary West’s Enjoy Your Piping weekly podcast – a great show. And I do still listen to Piping Sounds on the BBC from time to time.

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

Attending the 1999 World Pipe Band Championship on Glasgow Green has to rank way up there. I will never forget hearing Shotts that day on Glasgow Green. I had never heard those kind of dynamics in a band performance before. I was blown away. However, as we all know, they placed second to SFU. To me, it was simply stunning to hear that kind of playing and learn that it was second best. Nor will I ever forget how hard it rained, either!

•Joe at Lochbuie Castle, Scotland in 1999

Q. What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in, either band or solo?

In 1988, at the Stone Mountain Scottish Games in Atlanta, GA, I was playing in the Grade 2 Piobaireachd event. I hadn’t been in Grade 2 very long at that point and there was a large number of players entered. Mike Cusack was the judge that day and I was the last to play; it was late in the day. I was given first place. It was the very nice comments that I received from Mike in the car park that made it so memorable. I don’t remember his exact words but coming from a Gold Medallist it surely made my day.

Q. What are your piping goals for the future?

I want to be able to keep playing, have some moderate success, and keep on enjoying the music.

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

I would say “go for it”. It’s a well-run organisation offering lots of opportunities for development. I would love to be able to come back to Scotland to play in some of the “in-person” contests… maybe some day.

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

Currently I am playing Kintail drones made in 1997, a Canmore Hybrid bag with a simple tube water trap. The chanter is an R.G. Hardie Infinity (Blackwood). I play Kinnaird Edge carbon fiber drone reeds and Chris Apps chanter reeds. I came along during the days of sheepskin bags, Airtight Seasoning and cane drone reeds.  I spent more time fiddling with stuff than I did playing. And, let’s not forget that a sheepskin bag in this day costs more than I paid for my first Gillanders & McLeod bagpipe.

•Joe fishing for brook trout

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

Well – as I said in my first answer, I’m still an avid quail and pheasant hunter. I have a friend in North Carolina who has a large farm that he manages to provide good habitat for upland birds. I hunt with him several times each year. I fish for trout in western North Carolina in some of the same streams where my dad and my uncles taught me to fish. I still love football – the American kind – I played when I was in school as a boy and I love to watch it. When I was just a teenager, I got interested in Amateur Radio. I have held an Amateur Operator’s license for over 50 years.  It led me to a long and happy career with a global communications company and now helps to pass the time when I can’t get outdoors.

•Joe at his radio desk