By Scott Williams
  Michael John Rogers has been piping since 1980 and has recently risen to the very highest ranks of the competitive solo piping world by winning the prestigious Highland Society of London Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban, Scotland, in October 2000. He confirmed his enviable status by winning the Piobaireachd Society (Canada) Gold Medal at Maxville, Ontario in August, 2001. I was fortunate enough to have been at the latter event and to hear his prize-winning performance before judge Tom Spiers, of Edinburgh.
         Mike was the second son born to John & Sarah Rogers in Cape Girardeau, MO on January 27th, 1966, but grew up in the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area. After graduating from Laurel High School in 1984, Mike attended Virginia Tech where he obtained a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering in 1988. He went on to receive his Masters from Johns Hopkins University in 1995, and now works as a Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working on environmental clean up of former military sites. Currently, he manages the cleanup of a WWI-era chemical warfare research and development center located in Washington, DC. and makes his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. He likes to ski and fish.
         “I had no special interest in piping before I starting taking lessons,” Mike recalls. “Some distant relatives on my Mom's side of the family emigrated from Scotland in the 1800s, but that is about the only connection I had with things Scottish. I Really don't have any piping roots to speak of. I'm the only piper in my family.”
         So, how does someone with little or no Scottish background become one of America’s top-ranking pipers? Mike got his start in piping with Robert Mitchell, of Columbia, Maryland. “He was my first teacher,” Mike reminisces, “and he was one of the top solo competitors in the Eastern U.S. in his day. He still plays, but not competitively. He gave me a solid foundation as a piper and got me started competing. He started me out in Grade III. He put me in Grade III because I hadn't yet learned a 6/8 march, which was the tune requirement for Grade IV. I got a second and a third my first time out.”
         He then studied with Jimmy McIntosh (See Celtic Heritage, Feb/March ‘96 ). “I first met Jimmy at the Balmoral School held in Norfolk, Virginia in 1981,” recalls Mike. “I attended the same school for four more years at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. I only had one piobaireachd when I started in at these summer schools, and so I have had most of my piobaireachd instruction from Jimmy. I still see Jimmy for lessons in Pittsburgh several times each year.”
         Mike also studied with Murray Henderson. “I met Murray at the summer schools. Later, when Murray lived in Maryland in the mid-1980's, I had some regular private tuition from him. In addition to top-notch light music instruction, he gave me several piobaireachds and was a very generous teacher.”
         Alasdair Gillies (see Celtic Heritage, June/July ‘99) also had a hand in transforming Mike into a top competitive piper. “I started getting instruction from Alasdair after he came to Pittsburgh to teach at CMU,” says Mike. “I see him several times each winter at a series of workshops that he and Jimmy teach. Alasdair is, in my opinion, one of the most natural light music players I have ever heard. He makes the hardest tunes sound easy. I enjoy every minute of instruction I can get from him.”
         The list does not stop there. “I only had two weeks of instruction from Pipe Major Angus MacDonald one year when I won a scholarship to the Piping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland,” Mike continues, “but he had a huge impact on my piping career. He was an enthusiastic personality, and he could instantly make you feel like you were old friends. He treated me, a stranger from the USA, with a great deal of respect for how I was already playing tunes. He also took me with him to the Glenfiddich when he had an extra ticket, and through him I made a lot of new friends on that short trip to Scotland.
         “I also met Roddy MacLeod during my two weeks at the Piping Centre. I had less time with Roddy than with Angus because of his busy schedule, but I enjoyed the lessons immensely. You could never meet a nicer guy. And then there’s Michael Green, of Bethesda, Maryland. I never actually have had formal lessons with Mike, but I've played in his band, the City of Washington Pipe Band, since 1995. He is one of the most musical players I know and playing in the band with him is a tremendous learning experience. You can't help but become a better piper just by trying to learn to play tunes the way he wants you to. I am sure that I owe a lot of my success to him.”
         Pipe Major Green is quick to offer praise for the accomplishments of his band mate. “Mike is a real inspiration to all good pipers in the US”, he says. “He took several years off (basically the decade from 1985-1995) but came back with a vengeance! Unlike many former pipers who have done well in Scotland, Mike did it all from here - instead of living in the Highlands for a few years to get (his piping) up to speed.”
         Regarding those off years, Mike confesses “I guess I stopped because I was busy with other things - college, work, and graduate school - and I didn’t feel that I could maintain the level I had reached. I decided I’d rather not play then be mediocre, so I stopped. The City of Washington Pipe Band is really what brought me back.”
         Mike’s rise in solo piping has been meteoric. Though he had already established his name in Open competitions in the North Eastern United States, and had placed second in the Silver Medal in 1998,  it was his first place finish in the Cameron Gillies Championship at the Dr. Dan Reid Memorial Invitational Piping Competition held in San Francisco, CA in May, 1999 that brought him international notice. That summer, he returned to Scotland where he won the Silver Medal at Oban, and the next spring once again took the Cameron Gillies Championship in California. These victories set things up for his victory at the Gold Medal at Oban in 2000 and that brought him the opportunity to compete at the Glenfiddich Piping Championship at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, Scotland in October where he vied for prizes in a field of the ten top competitive pipes in the world. It also brought an invitation to compete in the Donald MacLeod Memorial Piping Competition in Stornaway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland in April, 2001. Mike’s first place performance which I had heard at the Piobaireachd Society (Canada) Gold Medal in August was quite simply the frosting on the cake.
         Mike has twice been awarded the EUSPBA President's Award, once for his work on the VOICE, the quarterly magazine published by the Association for which he served as co-editor since 1995, and a second time after winning the Gold Medal at Oban.
         “I’ve been involved in the VOICE since 1995,” Mike remembers, “I’ve always enjoyed writing. Paula Glendinning, who was a member of the City of Washington Pipe Band and was working on the magazine, asked if I’d be interested in helping out. I did, and it just grew from that start. It’s a lot of work, but it’s something that I still get excited about. It’s very much a collaborative effort, and Paula and Charlie Glendinning deserve the lion’s share of the credit.”
         Paula Glendinning speaks very highly on Mike. “He’s a true student of piobaireachd,” she says, “and his successes have been the result of hard work combined with his ability to make a bagpipe sound absolutely beautiful. A good friend is one who inspires you to do your best. Anyone who is in the same contest with Mike Rogers has to play well to get a prize, and Mike will be the first one to cheer you on. He brought his academic and piping skills together in his work with the VOICE. As editor, he sought out articles of value to beginning pipers and drummers as well as the most advanced players. His knowledge of band and solo material is key to the success of the magazine, as well as his familiarity with professional journals in other disciplines.”
         Mike’s musical endeavours have not been limited to solo piping. Over the years, he has been very active in the band scene as well. His first pipe band was the MacAlpin Pipe Band which became the Clan Campbell Pipes and Drums, Columbia, MD, a grade III competition band, which he joined in the early 1980's. He joined the City of Washington Pipe Band in 1995, and currently serves as the band’s Pipe Sergeant.
         The City of Washington Pipe Band was formed in 1961 as the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band, partly composed of personnel from the famed U.S. Air Force Pipe Band. By 1976, the band had risen to the top of Grade II when it won both the Canadian Championship and the North American Championship. In the early 1980s the band operated under the name of the Scottish & Irish Imports Pipe Band and was upgraded to Grade I in 1986 and won first places in Scotland at the Inverkeithing and Bridge of Allan Games. Dropping back to Grade II, the band reverted to is former name, Denny & Dunipace until it became the City of Washington Pipe Band in 1992 under the direction of Pipe Major Michael Green. The band captured the Grade 2 North American Championship in 1995, the year Mike Rogers joined them. The next year, the band finished in second place at the World Pipe Band Championships, and in 1999 won the event.
         “Among the highlights of those latter years,” says Mike, “was our trip to Nova Scotia to attend the Antigonish Highland Games. The Antigonish games were marvelous and fun experiences. It was something different than anything our band had done previously. It was great to see that part of the world, and to meet the people. It was also hard work of course - we did quite a bit of playing, including competitions on both days, a parade and a tattoo. I remember especially hearing two pipers there that really stood out - Ann Gray (See Celtic Heritage, April/May and June/July ‘96) and Colin Clancy.”
         The City of Washington Pipe Band’s performance for actor Sean Connery during the Kennedy Center Honors in the Kennedy Center Opera House on December 5, 1999 was later televised nationally on CBS. The band also performed to a sell-out crowd in A Scottish Christmas with Maggie Sansone and Bonnie Rideout at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on December 26, 1999. The band held a CD release concert for it's new CD, Scottish Rant, at the Washington Masonic Temple, Alexandria, VA, September 23, 2000, and performed on January 29, 2001 at the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) annual awards ceremony, where it received a "WAMMIE" for Best Duo/Group in the Irish/Celtic Category. The band was a featured performer on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion during a live radio broadcast on July 7, 2001, from Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia.
         Mike is currently playing a set of c1930 Lawrie Drones. “I usually play one of several D. Naill chanters in solos,” he says, “but the band plays the excellent new Shepherd wood chanter.”
         Mike serves on the EUSPBA judges panel for light music, bands, and piobaireachd, and judge 4 or 5 times a year, limited mainly by time constraints. “I give a lessons to a few students, and really enjoy it. I hope to do more in the future. Besides enjoying the music itself, probably the most attractive thing about this hobby is the people you meet and the places you travel. I've been fortunate in the last few years to have memorable encounters in both categories (solo and band).”



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