Updated: Apr 14, 2021
My name is Gemma, and i'm a 22 year old freelance professional Bagpipe player.
You've stumbled across my site and you're probably wondering: what is this weird girl doing with that bundle of sticks?
Well, you're in luck! Because here's my story of learning the Bagpipes. I hope you enjoy :)
Me in 2021- Safety Harbor, FL
I began playing the bagpipes when I was just a wee lass of 11 years in Dunedin, Florida at Dunedin Highland Middle School. I was in the school band and found out they were offering free bagpipe lessons after school, so I decided to give it a shot. At the time, I was around 85 pounds and could barely keep the instrument going without falling over. I made it through years of honks and squeaks before I got any good, and soon started competing as a soloist.
The first known bagpipe photo, circa 2010... embarrassing yet cute
I will make a future post explaining the competition world of piping, but for now just know that it's a hierarchical system starting at Grade 5 (beginner) and continuing to Grade 1 (Professional). I started in the Dunedin Middle School band playing grade 5 at Highland Games across the state of Florida, and also competing as a Grade 5 soloist. I quickly became enamored with Scottish Culture and knew that Bagpiping was something that I wanted to pursue seriously.
Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, NC, 2013
In High School, I attended a rigorous academic program called International Baccalaureate, leaving my school band. I now needed an adult band to keep playing the pipes with, and luckily I found Tampa Bay Pipe Band, a close-knit group of pipers and drummers gathering in North Tampa. With Tampa Bay, I competed in Grade 4 and moved up the ranks as a soloist, getting more competitions under my belt. Many teenage girls spend too much time on makeup, and I did that too, but I also spent too much time hanging out with old Scottish dudes. Go figure.
10th Grade, 2015- won a trophy, on top of the world
When it came time for College, I encountered a new phase in piping. I was awarded a bagpipe scholarship by the College of Wooster in Ohio, a small liberal arts School near Cleveland, where I spent four years studying Neuroscience. I led the band as the Pipe Major my senior year and enjoyed wearing the yellow "Loud MacLeod" tartan. Here, things were less focused on competition and more on performing for College events like concerts, Football Games, and even a yearly tour around the Northeast during Spring Break. A highlight was playing for the Football games, you'll rarely see people go as crazy for Bagpipes as Wooster fans on gameday.
Playing the Football team onto the field, 2018
The pandemic hit in the middle of my Senior year, and graduation came May 2020 virtually from my home in Clearwater. Graduating during a pandemic was tough, and knocked me off of the laboratory research path I was on during College and onto a musical one. I launched Gemma Briggs Bagpiping in November of 2020. Today, I work as a professional musician playing Bagpipes, in a Celtic Fusion band called North of Argyll, and am working on releasing a solo album. I am blessed to have the freedom to explore these passions, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me.
Gemma E. Briggs
P.S. If you want to check out my band, visit NorthofArgyll.com