Coreyanne Armstrong always has bagpipes or a child close by — usually both.
A single mother of eight children ages 5 to 19, Armstrong is a full-time professional bagpiper often performing four times a week and also owns “Portland and District Pipers,” which provides pipers and drummers for an array of events, including weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, parades and St. Patrick’s Day.
“Most single parents have to work. I’m just grateful for a job that’s so flexible,” she said, noting most bagpipers also work other jobs.
Armstrong, who lives in New Haven, has been playing for 16 years, taking her first lesson when there were only three children in the family,
She loves that the sound of bagpipes helps people “experience the full range of their emotions.”
If you’ve lost someone, bagpipe music helps you grieve by experiencing those emotions and when there’s a joyous event, the sound of bagpipes magnifies the joy, she said.
“I love the feeling involved,” Armstrong said. “I’m doing what I enjoy and people are enjoying it.”
Customer Denise Murphy’s wedding guests felt the emotion when she hired Armstrong to play one song at their wedding as a surprise for husband, Peter Murphy, whose family has strong ties to historic events in Ireland.
She hired Armstrong to play along with the band’s guitarist, “I would walk 500 miles,” by the Proclaimers, a Scottish rock duo.
Murphy said she quickly found Armstrong has a “huge heart” and after walking her through what she wanted to accomplish, Armstrong “took it from there.”
There was no time to practice, but Armstrong pulled it off magically, walking down a staircase at The Society Room of Hartford as the guitarist played downstairs.
“I hired her for one song ... but she stayed and played on,” Denise Murphy said. “The guests loved it ... and best of all, it moved Peter to tears.”
Jack Pott, director of music and arts at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford found Armstrong when looking for a bagpiper for a funeral and now, “She is my go-to piper,” Pott said.
“She’s a phenomenal bagpiper. She’ll play anything I ask. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility,” he said.
From the start, “She was one of those people you could tell was a wonderful human being,” Pott said.
Armstrong has played and competed across the country in prestigious graduations; big parades, including in New York City, and countless other premier events.
Armstrong has been to Scotland three times, including with her group, “Talcott Mountain Highlanders,” to compete in the world pipe band championships and they plan to return next summer, she said.
A seasoned pianist and flutist, Armstrong’s interest in playing the bagpipes was sparked 16 years ago at the Highland Games, a Scottish festival in California.
Her parents had come to visit from Texas to meet the newest grandbaby and her dad listened to the bagpipe bands all day.
“That day he suggested I pick up the bagpipes because I was married to an Armstrong,” she said, referring to her former husband.
“It just kind of grabbed me, so I started taking lessons five months later,” she said. Dad paid for some lessons, bought her first kilt and would later fly in for performances to help her juggle a nursing baby, while her mom watched the other children at home.
A year later she was playing at that same festival with Monterey Bagpipe Band.
“I put a lot into it really fast because I knew I would be pregnant that next summer,” she said of cramming.
She said the way one learns to play the bagpipes is about replicating sounds much like a child learns language.
“We memorize everything we play,” she said.
Prior to becoming a full-time mom and bagpiper, Armstrong was an officer in the U.S. Navy working in the nuclear power field.
During the time she was learning the bagpipes and performing, Armstrong juggled the babies and children with the help of family, often nursing between numbers at events. Practice often involved babies, toddlers, kids on her lap.
“I played till eight months pregnant with most,” Armstrong said.
Three of her older children are in her band and a fourth is working on it, she said. There’s Gabriel, 17, on snare drum, Leon, 15, and Claire, 14, on tenor drum. Greer, 11, is learning the bagpipes.
Although she plays traditional music, she also does “fast, fun” kitchen piping and modern stuff, such as backing tracks and playing along with modern music.
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The business is based in Portland where she owns a house and rents it out, but Armstrong and the kids live in a large apartment in New Haven.
Since the neighbors are close and she doesn’t want to disturb them, Armstrong often practices outside in her Wooster Street neighborhood or at the playground, where children find the bagpipes fascinating, she said.
“Every practice is a performance when people can hear you,” she said with a chuckle, noting sometimes those waiting outside Sally’s Apizza get a show.
There are also impromptu moments when Rugby players have invited her into a pub to play or in Newport on vacation when her kids convinced her to put out a jar. She made $60 in half an hour.
“If anybody wants to hear bagpipes the answer is, ‘yes,”’ she said.
Find Armstrong online at northeastbagpipes.com.
Pam McLoughlin can be reached at email@example.com.