When one thinks of Scotland, images of coos, kilts, lochs, castles, and especially picturesque, green lush moors naturally come to mind. Matched with our romantic impression of this majestic land, we feel the connection that beckons our intrinsic desire to be a part of this wonderful country; we simply love her. However, one aspect that embraces all that we hold dear – the landscape and spirit of Scotland – is its music. Anyone can feel the magnetic pull of the Highland Scottish Bagpipes as it creates a hypnotizing pulse that radiates through the heart, a fond affection the soul cannot deny. We are drawn to this mesmerizing sound of their captivating melody, generating a vibration that echoes and transcends through space and time – transporting any recipient to a magical place. The Scottish Highland Bagpipes are deeply rooted to Scotland’s people, history, and culture – naturally making any Outlander fan drawn to these enchanting instruments.
Our readers already know, we completely adore Diana Gabaldon’s books – not for the sheer love story, the Scottish scenery, or the lively adventures, but simply because of the strong and powerful female character, Claire. With today’s cinema finally presenting resilient and spirited women role models, it’s Sass3‘s great pleasure to highlight today’s blog to a lass with unwavering abilities and a trailblazer who has broken the stereotypical notion of a piper: Tress Maksimuk.
Let’s meet this extraordinary woman.
Getting to Know Tress Maksimuk
Once meeting Tress Maksimuk, her friendly and lighthearted demeanor is immediately noticed. Amicable, extremely easygoing, and down-to-earth are traits that best describe her. It’s easy to see why she is instantly liked by all. Tress wears many hats as a wife, a mother of two lovely teenage girls, a triathlete, and, of course, a piper. She has it all, like any modern woman!
You probably recognize her as the Lady Piper at the various STARZ Outlander gatherings in Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. Recently, this talented woman appeared on the Harry Connick, Jr. Talk Show teaching Mr. Connick, Jr. the details of playing the bagpipes. She is also scheduled to perform at San Diego’s Comic-Con this year with Outlander. Keep an eye out for her on the streets of downtown San Diego – all you need to do is just follow the music.
Tress Maksimuk is a pioneer for women’s Scottish Highland Bagpipes, beginning her musical passion during a time when women were not generally performing. She started playing the pipes about 15 years ago, and when she became a competent musician, it was often difficult for her to get hired. Simply put, she was female. Her challenges were met face to face when being turned down for jobs – most people wanting a traditional Scottish Highland Bagpipe player. This meant a male piper. Despite these setbacks, Tress continued playing music in a marching band and a small female musical group because of her love of the instrument. Her perseverance and level of success speak volumes about her drive and personal character.
Let’s take a closer look at this trailblazer and learn more about her beginnings, the bagpipes, teaching, and Outlander.
Getting to Know Tress a Little better
How did Tress get started with playing the bagpipes?
Tress grew up loving music, especially Celtic. Her brother was very musical and played several instruments, one being the Scottish Highland Bagpipes. Many years ago, while visiting her family, Tress asked her brother to play the bagpipes. At the time, her brother wasn’t in the mood to play for her and jokingly told Tress that the Scottish Bagpipes are instruments that would be too difficult for her to learn. That statement somehow stuck in her mind and, just like any athlete, was pushed to the test! It sparked Tress’ interest and the rest was history.
Was Tress always an Outlander fan?
Tress recalls seeing author booths at the Scottish festivals where she would march and play the pipes. Harlequin romance novels with a burly Scottish warrior on the front cover was a common sight. Tress even remembers Herself, Diana Gabaldon, calling her over to look at Outlander. Tress laughs, reminiscing, because she thought the book to be just like the others – and how far from the truth it was! It wasn’t until much later when a friend’s mother recommended the book, because of the historical places mentioned in the best-seller, that Tress finally read it. She then became an instant fan.
How did Tress team up with STARZ?
You must be wondering how this fortunate gal teamed up with our all-time favorite show, Outlander. Well, as you know by now, she is a huge Diana Gabaldon fan and, of course, Scotland fan. Back in 2014, the very FIRST Outlander event in Los Angeles, presented by STARZ, was organized. Tress heard about the event from a friend and fellow piper, so she instantly purchased a ticket. At the time, Tress had no clue that such an occasion was even in the works until her friend mentioned it. Not thinking much about it, she continued playing her pipes for shows and competition. Naturally, when Tress finally received her ticket confirmation, she wondered if the organizers had employed any pipers. “It was a Scottish related affair after all…” she thought. Without any expectations, Tress sent a short and quick email inquiring about it. That same day, her new Dark Isle Piper website was launched. Tress later received a message from the organizers stating that she and her friend were hired. She couldn’t believe it, sharing, “It seemed that the stars were aligned – it’s interesting how it all happened.”
Is it difficult to learn to play the pipes?
It takes a while to learn to play the instrument. Tress said, “I had to practice on a chanter first, and it’s like a duck call [the sound]. I learned playing that for about a year. Translating the entire method – breathing, pressing – is about 2 years. I would say it takes about 7 years for the musician to play effortlessly – blowing and squeezing [the bag].” Tress was determined to master the instrument.
How long has she been playing? How has Tress been a pioneer for women’s Scottish Highland Bagpipes artists?
Tress has been playing the bagpipes for about 15 years and considers herself a young musician, a newbie. “I’m a baby compared to others who have been playing for about 30 years,” she said. In the beginning it was challenging to be commissioned. As you can imagine, women traditionally were not seen performing the Scottish Highland Bagpipes. She then started a band with two other female pipers, calling themselves The Scottish Rejects. Despite all the setbacks, Tress kept going.
Is Tress teaching now?
Tress has been instructing others how to play the bagpipes for ten years now. At the beginning, she felt that she was too inexperienced to teach. “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time – I didn’t know how to actually teach. I just knew how to play, “she stated. Tress has about 35 – 45 students from around the world; with 15 consistent ones. These students work with her on a regular basis, either weekly or biweekly. Some of her students are from Australia and Florida, receiving instruction online through YouTube, Facebook, or Skype. Interestingly, many of her students are firefighters as many fire departments compete in bagpipe teams at Scottish festivals. Instructing is a passion for Tress, and it is currently a full time job. Nursing was her initial career choice, but now she has the opportunity to live out her dream.
What about Sam? Has she met him?
Tress has met Sam Heughan many times. Her initial meeting at the LA Gathering was a very pleasant experience. At the time, she didn’t know who Sam was, except that he was the star of the show.
Tress shared, “When I first met Sam, we talked a lot about Scotland and about where he grew up. We also talked about castles.” The conversation was focused on Scotland and their love of the country.
Tress fondly recalls how she left Sam alone, in the middle of their conversation and a bit abruptly, because she spotted a familiar tartan of her clan, the Campbells. Tress smiled and giggled, remembering the moment she left him a bit surprised for leaving him like that. Sam had smiled and shook his head with amusement. That was Tress’ first time meeting Sam Heughan. “He’s really is down-to-earth,” Tress added.
We hear of a new project. Is there an album coming soon?
A new album is in the works for Tress. She is producing pieces that not only highlight the pipes, but also incorporates additional instruments that she plays. It will showcase her talent and comprise of traditional Celtic and Scottish music. Promotions will begin in October and November, so we’ll be sure to pay attention. Be on the lookout for her album scheduled for release in December.
Is Tress for hire? How can one find her?
Yes, she is! If you want to learn how to play the Scottish Highland Bagpipes, you may receive instructions. The majority of her lessons are taught online so anyone, anywhere can take courses. Tress is also available to play for any special event like weddings, family parties, Scottish gatherings, funerals, and more. Visit her website Dark Isle Piper and her YouTube channel for more information.
With today’s images of women expanding and broadening beyond the traditional concept of female roles, we are proud to have met Tress Maksimuk. She is a role model for our daughters and all females, young and old, making her a female hero and warrior any lass would love to know. We thank Tress Maksimuk for sharing her story with us.
Photos copyrighted by Dark Isle Photography (Dark Isle Piper). ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.