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Asa Moss: The Bagpiper of Ellicottville

By Jeff Martin

Not long ago, Asa Moss heard a rumor that someone was playing the Scottish bagpipes in town.

Moss, 27, was a bit surprised to hear the rumor. An expert pipe player himself, it’s rare to hear of someone else practicing the centuries-old instrument — at least in the little village of Ellicottville.

I never met him or anything,” Moss said. “It was strange to hear about it.”

Playing the Scottish bagpipes, or “pipes” as they are referred, isn’t a lost art. Canadians play them all the time, Moss said, and the haunting reverberations can be heard during most Irish festivals throughout the country.

Recently, Moss gathered together his pipes and related equipment and played during St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Ellicottville. It’s a tradition for him, one that he’s been engaged in since he started learning them when he was 14.

With Ellicottville roots stretching back to his grandparents, who moved to the area in the ‘60s, Moss is, like many musicians and artists, known for his main source of income than for his passion.

As owner of Moss Cnstruction, Moss spends most of the time in home construction, renovation and remodeling. With an improving housing market and business better than it has been in some time, Moss doesn’t have countless days and hours to just pull out the pipes and play.

But every so often, he does.

There was a time when Moss thought he would never play again. Shortly before his 17th birthday, Moss suffered a broken arm, a significant injury considering that playing the Scottish pipes requires intense arm and finger strength. Making matters more difficult was the fact that a bagpipe supplier in Buffalo eventually closed its doors.

“It’s not easy to find a supplier anymore,” he said.

When he was a kid, Moss fell in love with the bagpipes by way of genetics (his family has Scottish roots) and interest in military affairs, specifically the way in which military branches utilize bagpipes during ceremonies. There’s a “haunting” sound to them, he said, and also something joyous about them.

“There was always something about them that I loved,” he said.

Had he not broken his arm, he could have gotten a scholarship to any one of several Ohio universities.

“Not a whole of people play the pipes,” he said. “It’s one of those things — should have, could have.”

Settling permanently in the village, Moss has made a life for himself within construction circles. That he plays bagpipes at random and engages in more eccentric behavior, like riding his Belgian horse to town bareback and offering wagon rides, makes him all the more part of a unique and thriving area.

“This area is great,” he said. “I love it here. I have no plans to leave it.”

Moss plays his pipes at funerals and weddings and, from time to time, parties. But it’s the random act of picking up his pipes on a summer evening and going down to a local festival and playing that excites him most.

“A lot of people ask about it,” he said.

In the near future, Moss plans to join his second band, the Episcopal Trinity Pipe Band in Hamburg. While he’s looking forward to the companionship, he’s not so much looking forward to learning variations of the songs he has been playing for a long time.

“Learning one song on the pipes is hard,” he said. “It’s muscle memory. You don’t learn the pipes by reading music. You learn through your fingers and muscles. It should be a challenge for me, but it will be fun.”

A set of pipes can cost between $1,600 to $10,000. Moss has had his for about 10 years, and aside from general maintenance costs (reed replacement), it’s a relatively cheap hobby after the initial investment. Beginner players typically spend two years learning chanting techniques, or rather learning the tunes. Following mastery, the player moves to the pipes and a lifelong apprenticehood.

Like most, Moss is looking forward to the warmer weather. It’s difficult to play the pipes in colder weather because the reeds stiffen and, sometimes, freeze. He would play more often indoors, but the sound is deafening is closed quarters.

For Moss, spring and summer means hoisting the pipes, dressing in his kilt, and belting out a rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” that would make Ozzy proud.

“I love playing that song on the pipes,” he said. “And people love hearing it.”

For information about Moss, including his business services and bagpipe performances, call (716) 225-7784 or visit him on Facebook.

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