DENVER — When it comes to music, Ashton Steele found something a little different.
"The first time I heard it, I don't really know how to put that into words, but there's some sort of empowering feeling listening to the bagpipes," Steele said.
He is a member of the Colorado Youth Pipe Band, based in Denver. In the basement of the Washington Street Community Center, young kids learn an old instrument.
"Every time people find out that I play the bagpipes, they always ask me why do you do that because, yeah, most people that play are 60 and older and get senior discounts," said Steele, 17, who's been playing the instrument since he was 9 years old.
The bagpipes have been around for centuries, carrying history and meaning, especially for the culture of Scotland. It is an instrument that James Cuthill said changed his life. Not only is he director of the Colorado Youth Pipe Band, but 32 years ago, he was one of its students.
"The first time I got the pipes actually under my arm, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Cuthill said. "I don't know what it was. Just something clicked."
Over the years, the Colorado Youth Pipe Band has evolved, bringing in traditional Scottish dancing and drums. Cuthill said that volunteers almost entirely run the nonprofit.
"Our mid-sections (instructor), she works for the city of Denver," he said. "Our snare drum instructor is a mechanic. Two of our dance teachers are public school teachers."
They are all people who care about preserving an art form that is mostly entrenched with aging adults, according to Cuthill – the director who won't grow up.
"Definitely, the joke comes up from time to time about my perpetual childhoods," Cuthill said, laughing. "Yeah, I think I'm the oldest kid in the Youth Band."
When the band enters competitions, they often compete against bagpipers who are 40 to 50 years older than them, Steele said.
"There's definitely bands where it's all retirees," he said. "So, we're the youngest band by far."
In addition to competing, Steele volunteers his time to play the bagpipes at events from funerals to weddings.
"I like to do whatever I can do," he said. "It's one small piece of my time, 30 minutes, that I can volunteer, and it makes a big impact on their family and friends that go to these events."
PHOTOS: Colorado Youth Pipe Band
He said his father in his law enforcement and it is most meaningful when he plays at memorial services.
"It kind of gives you an empowering feeling that all individuals get when they do listen to the bagpipes," Steele said. "You hear the bagpipes, and it just brings out emotion and just kind of exemplifies everything that’s happening at that moment."
Cuthill said the purpose of the Colorado Youth Pipe Band is to make sure the tradition of the bagpipe lives on.
"The sole purpose of creating a feeder band for all the bands in the area and making the Colorado piping scene a healthier place, and I think we succeeded for sure," he said.
If you want to find out more about the Colorado Youth Pipe Band, click here.
>Video below: Watch the Colorado Youth Pipe Band perform a song.
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