Of all the symbols of Monmouth College's Scottish heritage, probably the most visible, colorful and noisiest is the MC Pipes and Drums, the bagpipe and drum band that performs at so many college functions and off-campus events.
The band has its roots in the late 1940s, when music professor and band director Hal Loya decided that a school with a Scottish heritage should have bagpipers leading its marching band. With financial backing from language professor Dorothy Donald, he ordered two bagpipes and a practice "chanter" from Scotland and taught himself to play. He then convinced two musically-talented brothers, Floyd '49 and David '51 Hershberger, to also learn the challenging instrument, and they became Monmouth's first official pipers.
It was not long before a Highland dance troupe was also formed, and in 1957, the Monmouth Highland Pipe Band was organized, eventually growing to 14 members in the mid-1960s.
One of the early pipers, who is still active as an alumnus, is Bill Lee '69.
"Bill did not join the band, he was literally kidnapped," said Bruce Danielson ’69, who was a member of the band at the time. "We were going to perform in the Auditorium one night but we didn’t have a drummer. We knew Bill played drums and we asked him to play for us but he said no, he wasn’t going to do it, so we literally dragged him kicking and screaming down to the Auditorium, put him in the drum harness and said 'play.'"
Lee, for his part, remembers a day in 1967 when the Highlanders were down to just two people, he and Danielson. So they went to Student Activity Night—uninvited—and signed up 22 people.
"They kicked us out because we were taking away everybody’s business and signing them up with us," he said. Of those 22 people who signed up, 10 stayed and learned to play and the band was saved.
But former members of the various pipe bands said that keeping the band operating was difficult, primarily because of the difficulty in learning to play the bagpipes and student turnover.
"It was a struggle," said Danielson. "You teach someone to play the pipe and after four years they get pretty good at it, then they leave and you have to start over again with a new bunch of players."
"It’s strong at the beginning of the year and petered out by the end of the year," said Rick Downart ’67. "There would only be three or four of us in the band by the end of the year."
Most of the bagpipe lessons were taught by pipers who were already in the band. Some members even went to Peoria and learned to play with the Peoria Pipers during summer breaks.
"Still, we weren’t very good," Lee admits. "The quality of instruction was pretty low."
In 1994, President Sue Huseman decided that the band needed to have new life, and with the assistance of Bill Lee and his wife, Peggy '71, who taught free lessons to the college community, reconstituted it as the Monmouth Pipes and Drums. Keeping it all in the family, the Lees' son Josh served as pipe major.