For over 40 years, the Payson High School Pipe Band has been dazzling the eyes and ears of thousands of people who have had the privilege of being in their presence. That tradition has not only been continuing, but has been ramped up thanks to the help of community members.
Two of those community members spoke to Serve Daily, and told of their love for the program, students, community, and of course, the bagpipes.
Director Diana Lees, who is also an English teacher at Payson Junior High, said she started playing the bagpipes in the Pipe Band when she was in junior high school, and that as she got older, she wanted to share her experience with others.
“I grew up in Payson and started playing in 9th grade at the junior high under the director Kerri Welton,” Lees said. “I loved doing all the parades and festivals, traveling and meeting people. When I graduated, I played in a community band, and when the director position opened up 12 years ago, I stepped in.”
Leanne Johnson, who, along with her husband Danny Johson assists Lees with the high school program, said that over the years, she noticed that the program wasn’t as popular as it once was and she wanted to do something to change that.
Johnson also started playing bagpipes at Payson High School, and said that she loved it so much that she continued to play at the community level. She even began teaching fellow college students – one of whom would turn out to be her future husband.
“My sophomore year in college, I met my husband,” Leanne recalled. “I thought he was cute, and I wanted to see if I could get him to come over to talk to me, so I started to play my bagpipes. I played and he came over, and he said that he had always wanted to learn how to play the bagpipes. We talked for like two hours and it was history after that. I ended up teaching him how to play the bagpipes during the first year of marriage.”
Over the years, Leanne and Danny not only played bagpipes together in community bands, but passed their love for the instrument to their children. While Leanne began teaching her children, she invited others to her home in Springville to learn. Little did she know that she would be teaching budding musicians that would soon make up a large portion of the pipe band today.
“I contacted Diana and told her that I had a bunch of students in Springville who were ready for pipe band, and I asked if I could come help her,” Leanne recalled. “So, I brought my students – two of which were my sons with me to practice.”
Building a successful program
Since 2019, the three have worked together to build a program that not only performs at community events, but competes at a high level.
“We have an entire curriculum where we have students start with the basics with a chanter, and learn tunes on it,” Leanne said. “Once they have passed off the tunes on the chanter, they get to try bagpipes, and when they pass off the tunes on the bagpipes, they get to have a uniform, and then when they pass off more tunes, they get the varsity pipes.”
The varsity pipe band begins in ninth grade, and Leanne said that she encourages all youth in the area who are interested to come try because it is an experience very few in the state have. After all, the Payson High School Pipe Band is one of only two high school sanctioned pipe bands in the state, with the other being Ben Lomond High School.
“We really have a unique opportunity here because we are one of two high school sanctioned pipe bands in the state,” Leanne said. “You can live in other areas and participate in a community pipe band, but this is a unique opportunity to play in an all youth pipe band.
“We compete in the juvenile category, but there aren’t really any other juvenile bands. We went against six adult bands last summer and took 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.”
It’s more than just pipe band
Lees, who is also a teacher, said that being in the pipe band is more than just playing an instrument; it’s a way to build community and teach students about the world.
“What many people may not know is that bagpipes aren’t just unique to Scotland,” Lees said. “There is a student in the band who had Mexican heritage, and I did some research on pipe bands in Mexico, and we played a traditional tune from that area. There are also pipe bands in Canada and Australia, and I have connected with some directors in those areas to see what they are doing with their bands. It’s been a great way to learn about many different heritages.”
The pipe band class is offered at the junior high and high school as an after school class that students can get credit for. The band practices once a week year-round and performs at many local events and competitions in the summer.
For more information, go to the band’s Facebook page “Payson High School Pipe Band.”