‘He wanted to learn the bagpipes’

Colorado Youth Pipe Band allows students to learn instruments, dance, life skills


If a youth can perform in a competition and play well in front of a judge, it’s likely they will take those skills and be able to succeed at any job interview once they become adults.

Being involved with the Colorado Youth Pipe Band “sets them up for anything they want to do in the rest of their life,” said Jamie Cuthill of Aurora, the band director for the Colorado Youth Pipe Band. “They’re learning life skills.”

The Colorado Youth Pipe Band is a nonprofit governed by a volunteer board and the band director. Youth involved learn the traditions of Highland bagpipes, drums and dance, as well as life skills such as leadership, pride and camaraderie through performance and competition.

“They are tremendous,” said the band’s founder Neil Gillette of the youth. “I’m so proud of what they do and their continuing spirit.”

Gillette, a resident of southeast Denver, has been piping for about 50 years. He started playing the bagpipes when he was 16, despite there not being a youth pipe band at the time.

He formed the Colorado Youth Pipe Band in September 1989 with one goal: to provide a fun, nurturing place for youth.

“Most pipe bands (consist) of adults and don’t have children in them, except youth who already know how to play and already have uniforms,” Gillette said. “I wanted to provide a space for youth.”

The Highland dance section of the band got started in 1997, with the help of Shari Gillette, a dance instructor who is Neil Gillette’s wife.

The band rehearses on Mondays year-round at the Washington Street Community Center, 809 S. Washington St., in Denver’s Washington Park West neighborhood.

A bagpipe or drumming student can join the youth pipe band as young as 8, and Highland dance students can join as young as 4. Additionally, the youth can learn to play the bagpipes or drums — tenor, snare or bass — and simultaneously learn to Highland dance.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to get to learn something outside of their general education,” said Misty Delaney of Dacono, whose children have been involved with the band since about 2013 — four are currently involved, and two have aged out. “And it’s an opportunity for them to play, perform and compete with others their age.”

Eight-year-old Kavyn Jenkins of Denver’s Harvey Park neighborhood wanted to learn everything about his Scottish heritage, his mom, Holly Jenkins, said. Then one day, he told her that he wanted to learn the bagpipes.

So about a year ago, she got him involved with the Colorado Youth Pipe Band, and today, Kavyn is learning to play the chanter — the part of the bagpipe that creates the melody. It is a steppingstone instrument to the bagpipes, and generally, all students start out by learning to play the chanter.

Youth don’t need prior experience or a background in music to join the Colorado Youth Pipe Band. The organization is committed to providing ongoing instruction and uniforms, which are band-owned. Bagpipers and drummers wear the Hamilton Hunting Modern Tartan for all performances and competitions.

“You don’t want them in hand-me-down kilts or equipment,” Neil Gillette said. “You want them to look as sharp as the adult pipe bands.”

The Palmer family of Littleton learned of the Colorado Youth Pipe Band a number of years ago. They attended a Denver Brass and bagpipe concert, and per the interest of the children, the concert’s emcee told them about the Colorado Youth Pipe Band.

Today, all four Palmer children — Aiden, 14; Zivah, 12; Uri, 11; and Zoey, 10 — are involved with the band.

“I like the drums because they’re fun to play,” said Zivah Palmer, who has been involved with the band since 2018. “But I also like dancing because it’s a fun form of exercise. I’m not interested in any other types of sports right now.”

Kiowa’s Evan Schrieber, 25, joined the Colorado Youth Pipe Band when he was 11 and played with the band until he aged out at 18, which is when he became a drumming instructor for the band.

“It’s like nothing else they would ever do,” Schrieber said. “It’s very intellectual, and it takes a time commitment for the skill. But it’s not just about the instruments — they gain a lot of people skills.”

The Colorado Youth Pipe Band performs and competes at Celtic festivals across the state, and in 2007 and 2013, traveled to Scotland to perform and compete.

The youth also get involved with the community in various ways, said Jackie Cuthill, Jamie Cuthill’s sister, who serves as the organization’s dance co-director along with Cristy Jones.

They perform at a variety of community events — such as Saint Patrick’s Day parades and Memorial Day events — as well as random cheer-up performances in their local communities. For example, one of the youths brought out his bagpipes and played socially-distanced in the streets for neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home order in 2020. The Palmers recently performed for a neighbor who had returned home after a stay at the hospital because of various health conditions.

“I always wanted to make this my profession,” said Jamie Cuthill, who joined the Colorado Youth Pipe Band when he was 11. It was 1990, and he was one of Neil Gillette’s first nine students.

Today, the Colorado Youth Pipe Band has about 25 youth involved and is always accepting new members.

Cuthill, 43, has been teaching for about 20 years, and took over as band director when Gillette retired. His goal is to make the Colorado Youth Pipe Band the best band that Colorado has ever seen, he said.

“If we want to keep the art going,” Cuthill said, “we have to get the youth involved.”

Colorado Youth Pipe Band, bagpipes, Highland dance


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