A skirt is not what you would expect to find in a fraternity president’s closet.
But that’s what you’ll find in Alex Brown’s closet. Actually, it’s a kilt, which, along with a sporran and ghillies, makes up the traditional highland dress worn by people who play the bagpipes.
Brown, an SMU senior, is the president of Sigma Chi and a Grade 2 bagpiper. A native of Milwaukee, WI Brown will be graduating in May with a triple major in economics, political Science, and public policy.
“The first time I heard Alex’s bagpipes, I closed my eyes and was taken to a faraway land of rolling hills and green pastures, sending the Scottish blood deep within my veins surging into my heart with a force and vigor which I had not known.” said Stephen Hernandez, a senior at SMU whose mother is of Scottish descent. He has known Brown since their freshman year.
Brown had been taking piano lessons throughout elementary school, but he found himself growing bored. Inspired by his father, an avid piper, and searching for an instrument that was a little more out of the box, he turned to the bagpipes when he was in 8th grade.
“It’s not easy to learn. I picked it up faster than most people, I think.” said Brown. “It still took a while. I don’t even consider myself extremely proficient.”
One year after learning to play the bagpipes, Brown began to play at weddings, funerals, and other paying events in his area. His first event was a curling tournament the winter of his freshman year of high school.
In addition to playing events, Brown competes in bagpiping competitions. Bagpipers compete by grades; when you start out you are in the novice category, then you move through grades 5 through 1, 1 being the highest grade one can reach. Brown has won six medals in his current level of Grade 2 and has competed in regional competitions throughout the Midwest, the U.S. Championships and the Alma Highland Festival in Alma, MI.
Brown’s most memorable experience was when he got a chance to travel to Isernia, Italy to play at the Italian Spring School. The international school holds a week-long event organized by the Associazione Pipers Italiani, The National Piping Centre and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
In 2011, Brown was the recipient of the Midwest Highland Arts Fund’s Italian Spring Piping School Scholarship, which allowed him to go to the school.
He said that the students were based in the mountains of Italy where they had their lessons during the day, then at night they would play their bagpipes in different village towns.
Keeping up with bagpiping in college has not been easy, but Brown still finds time to practice and play events on occasion.
“Back in high school I used to practice an hour a day and that’s when I really saw progress,” said Brown. “In college it has been harder to play. I’ll get it in every couple of weeks now. The practice has gone down but it’s something I can pick up after graduation.”