After seeing a bagpipe performance two years ago at the Chicago Celtic Festival, 15-year-old Brian Ostrega of Beverly decided to take up the instrument.
"I've always asked him, 'When you're 13 would you want to play the bagpipes?' The opportunity came and he took it," says Diana Ostrega, 49, of her son.
Brian and his sister Alexandra, 13, are taking bagpipe lessons from the City of Chicago Pipe Band.
Since 2003, co-founders Patrick Lynch and Jason Freeman have offered bagpipe lessons for kids in the Chicago area. The pair also leads the City of Chicago Pipe Band in competitions and performances.
"The students who we're looking for are generally between 8 and 14 or 15," Lynch says. "The difference between an adult learner and a child is the adult has to learn the Cliff's Notes version of how to play -that's the version you usually hear that sounds like a bunch of cats in a bag getting beaten."
While the ideal age for learning the bagpipes is pre-driver's license -kids' hands are more flexible and less worn than adults, Lynch says-the learning curve can still be steep.
Students must first master a recorder-like practice chanter, a process that typically extends for at least six months, before moving to the bagpipe. Brian's transition began in March while Alexandra is still working on the chanter.
"It was very difficult and challenging trying to maintain the same air pressure on the bag while learning new songs," Brian says.
For Alexandra, her small hands make some notes difficult to play.
"Reaching the fingers [is the hardest part]," she says.
The transition is not just in skill but in price. Bagpipes can cost up to $6,000, Lynch says. Brian's set cost $1,200.
Students who come from musical backgrounds, like Brian and Alexandra, have an easier time adapting to the bagpipes, Lynch says.
With his instructor's help, Brian's work paid off. He performed with the pipe band on the Fourth of July and is looking forward to more competitive performances.
"We're planning to go to the world championships in Scotland in two years," Lynch says.
To see the City of Chicago Pipe Band, stop by the Chicago Celtic Festival on Sept. 16, where the group will be performing from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The festival is free. Visit www.cityofchicago.com/specialevents.
Individual lessons are $10. Call Patrick Lynch (773) 875-6812, or visit www.chicagopipeband.com.