A pipe band formed at Molloy College last fall, and its leader is 19-year-old biology student Erin McGrath, a globally recognized piper.
The Molloy sophomore is the youngest piper in the New York Metro Pipe Band, the largest of its kind on the east coast, comprising 32 pipers and drummers. McGrath is also one of just two women who play bagpipes in the band. She has wowed audiences near and far, playing local ceremonies, nationally televised programs — including the Harry Connick Jr. Show and One Night Only With Alec Baldwin — and worldwide competitions.
“From the start, you could tell she had a ton of talent,” said Michael Mahoney, pipe major of the New York Metro Pipe Band. “She has a great aptitude for picking up the subtleties required at our level.”
The New York Metro Pipe Band competes at the World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland and Canada in Grade 2, the second-highest of five divisions. Mahoney formed the band in 2010, and the pipers earned first place at the World Championships in Scotland in Grade 3B in 2011. They went on to compete in Grade 2 and earn first place at the North American Championships in Canada later that year, as well as the American Championship in Virginia in 2016.
Meanwhile, McGrath began playing bagpipes at the age of 9, after her father, Matthew, who plays with the New York City Department of Sanitation’ pipe band, inspired her to pick it up.
“I’ve always wanted to learn different instruments,” McGrath said. “You practice on a plastic chanter [to learn bagpipes]. So when I was little, [my father] would leave it around to see what my brothers and I would do with it. They would come along and bang it like a drumstick and they became drummers, but I started to play it.”
McGrath, who lives in Bohemia, first joined East Islip’s Roisin Dubh Pipe Band in 2009 as its youngest member. The band’s pipe major Bill LePage reflected on McGrath’s “incredible skill” from a young age.
“We were in amazement at her talent level compared to people who have been doing this for [decades],” he said. “Every march we went to, she was the center of attention.”
After seven years with Roisin Dubh, McGrath auditioned and started playing for the New York Metro in 2016. She now plays at weddings, funerals, parades and other ceremonies in both bands. Last year, she competed with New York Metro in Scotland for the World Championships. “It was cool to be playing at such a high caliber with players from all around the world and to see top-notch bands compete,” she said.
McGrath also played with the New York Metro on One Night Only With Alec Baldwin at the Apollo Theatre in June 2017, which aired on Spike TV a month later. Then, in October 2017, she played solo on the Harry Connick Jr. Show, which aired in March 2018. “The whole experience was really cool,” she said.
Last year, Molloy College President Drew Bogner and Janine Payton, vice president of Student Affairs, approached McGrath with the idea to start a pipe band on campus. With a decade of experience under her belt, she agreed to take charge.
McGrath recruited a few students to join, most of whom have never played bagpipes. “She’s been instrumental to getting this going,” Payton said. “This instrument is by no means a quick instrument to learn, but she’s been teaching with patience. Hopefully a year from now, we have a full band running.”
Kristina Schied, 20, a sophomore English student at Molloy, joined the pipe band when it formed last September. “I see her play the bagpipes all the time,” Schied said of McGrath. “Seeing her play is very inspiring. If I’m struggling, she’ll help me on the weekends and she sits with us one-on-one.”
McGrath hopes to recruit more pipers and drummers into the band to share her talents with others. “It’s something unique and different; not a lot of people know what it’s all about,” she said. “It goes through families, so it’s hard to be involved if you don’t know someone. I want to show people that anyone can learn at anytime. It’s never too late.”