Kal Vaikla – aka “The Derbyshire Piper” – took up the bagpipes just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evolving quickly, he has since performed with orchestras as well as for both personal and public events.

Piping is far from Vaikla’s first musical venture, however – the Welshman has been playing the clarinet, the saxophone, and more for over 30 years. “I genuinely believe music, in any form, is food for the soul,” he shares with Celtic Life International via email.

Vaikla’s fascination with the pipes began in cinematic style one New Year’s Eve – he and his wife were attending a party at the Derby Assembly Rooms and, after the clock struck midnight, “a spotlight suddenly illuminated a piper way up high above the stage in all his finest kilt attire and started to play Auld Lang Syne,” he recalls “It was at that moment that I said to my wife, ‘I want to be that guy.’”

The main challenges of learning the pipes, he says, were finding a tutor and sticking to the practice.

“Some folks try to teach themselves and that is a definite no-no. Once you have a tutor, you need to master the chanter (like a recorder) before starting on the pipes and progressing. All tunes must be committed to memory since we don’t play with music in front of us. Most importantly is the regular practice: 10 minutes a day as a routine to really embed the muscle memory.”

The difference between a good piper and a not-so-good piper, Vaikla explains, is the ability to use “embellishments” such as doublings, grips, and throws.

“Once you get up to speed with playing the pipes, it is infectious, and you find yourself wanting to master the next tune and so on as well as constantly striving to improve your technique so as to be respected by your piping fraternity colleagues.”

Although he now lives in Derbyshire Dales, England, Vaikla performs across the United Kingdom. He always brings a bit of Welsh flair to his performance, typically sporting the St Davids Welsh National tartan or the Pride of Wales tartan. He currently plays two sets of Highland bagpipes: 2014 David Naill DN6 pipes (his main set) and Dunfion dirk handle pipes.

“The rewards vary from having the privilege to play at someone’s wedding, or the honour to lead a funeral procession, to performing at a wide range of events such as Burns Night. People always want their photo taken with you.”

Vaikla has played his share of competitions and larger events also, of course. One performance in particular sticks out in his mind: when he joined the Leicester Symphony Orchestra onstage for a piece called An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. “At the end, I walked out onto the stage to an audience of 600 in De Montfort Hall to play my part.”

More recently, he played to an even larger audience alongside Nottinghamshire Pipes & Drums with André Rieu’s Johann Strauss Orchestra. “What a tremendous sound alongside these fine pipers and drummers together with the fine musicians of his orchestra.”

Vaikla notes that although music – and the arts in general – have suffered from budget cuts, there is no shortage of interest in the bagpipes. Especially in Scotland, he notes, where young people are still happy to pick up the instrument.

“Oddly enough, many folks outside of Scotland often take up the pipes later in life and, you often hear ‘I wish I had started years ago’”.

At the same time, he believes the spread of piping on social media will continue to help garner interest among a variety of age ranges. “I think it all starts with early age and encouragement to help youngsters realize the benefits of music in general and how it takes you away from the daily stresses of life, even for only a few minutes. It is also self fulfilling since it creates a buzz to want to learn the next part or piece and constantly improve, but it must be fun and must resonate with the age group.”

In other words, if a kid isn’t interested in the classics, don’t sweat it.

“Most children will switch off it you start lauding Mozart. But try Adele or Ed Sheeran and they’re on it. After all, all music is music.”