Barry McNamara  |  Published August 09, 2023

Big Brogues to Fill

Aaron Kimzey ’19 begins new role as Monmouth College Pipe Band director, succeeding retired biology professor Tim Tibbetts.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – When Aaron Kimzey made an official visit to Monmouth College in fall 2014, he was a high school musician with zero knowledge about playing the bagpipes.

AARON KIMZEY: New Monmouth College Pipe Band director first started playing with the group in 201... AARON KIMZEY: New Monmouth College Pipe Band director first started playing with the group in 2015.Less than a decade later, Kimzey has come so far with the instrument that he’s been named the director of the Monmouth College Pipe Band, which was formerly directed by Tim Tibbetts. The longtime biology professor, who retired from his teaching role earlier this year, will remain a part of the band.

“I didn’t learn the bagpipe until I started here in the fall of 2015,” said Kimzey, who played the trumpet and French horn at Mount Pleasant (Iowa) Community High School. “When I was applying to colleges the year prior, I saw that Monmouth had bagpipes, and I thought I’d try it. But it was not very easy. It was a very challenging experience, and very humbling.”

Kimzey was part of a band that hovered around 10 members, which is about the number he’ll be in charge of this semester. Members include Tibbetts and alumni Ethan Hager ’18 (also a communication studies faculty member), Kieren Marshall ’21 and Brandon Ouellette ’14, as well as five students: Leena Alvarez ’26, Eli Douglass ’24, Bryndalyn Neal ’25, Garrett Rossell ’25 and Peter Soutsos ’26.

Kimzey’s goal is to bolster those numbers through the addition of students. To that end, he’s looking into recruiting talented pipers and drummers from coast to coast and even internationally. The College has attracted band members from Canada in the past, and Marshall, who is from Melbourne, Australia, has connections Down Under.

Kimzey also hopes to work with alumni from bagpipe-rich regions – such as Stuart Aumonier ’12, who lives in the Chicagoland area – to attract pipers and drummers to campus.

Learning the ropes

In addition to veterans of the bagpipes, Kimzey is also willing to work with musicians with little to no experience with the instrument. He’s grateful that courtesy was extended to him, giving a shout-out to the classmates who took him under their wing when he was beginning his time at Monmouth.

“The people who taught me were amazing,” said Kimzey, who worked his way up to the position of pipe sergeant before he graduated. “The pipers we had while I was here were Kathleen Brown ’17, Tom Cangelosi ’18, Anthony Howe ’16, Jaron Park ’19 and Thomas Wise ’19. They all took their time to train me up, and I’m extremely grateful for them.”

Kimzey now has “full-circle” moments, where he is the experienced piper, showing the ropes to newcomers. If the learning curve is like Kimzey’s, it takes more than a year to feel comfortable playing the pipes in a performance.

“It was probably the spring semester of my sophomore year before I gained that confidence,” he said.

Monmouth’s first full day of classes for the 2023-24 academic year is Aug. 23, and the Pipe Band’s opening performance will not be far behind. The band has been invited to play in Galesburg’s 131st Annual Labor Day Parade on Sept. 4 and, two days later, it will march down Broadway and in front of campus in the Warren County Prime Beef Festival Parade.

“I want to give my thanks to ‘Dr. T’ for his dedication. He took time out of his day back in October of 2014 to meet with me and talk with me about bagpiping, and it just took off from there. It was something I wanted to do, and I’ve stuck with it.” Aaron Kimzey

The former event is a new addition to the Pipe Band’s fall schedule, which also includes home football games. The Fighting Scots’ home opener is Sept. 9 – capping off a busy week for the band – and the Homecoming parade and game is set for Oct. 7.

As he increases the band’s size and talent level, it is also Kimzey’s hope that he can take his musicians to Highland Games competitions, which Tibbetts frequently did during his two decades in charge of the group.

“I want to give my thanks to ‘Dr. T’ for his dedication,” said Kimzey. “He took time out of his day back in October of 2014 to meet with me and talk with me about bagpiping, and it just took off from there. It was something I wanted to do, and I’ve stuck with it.”

Old pipes come home

Earlier this week, Kimzey had a special thrill, when he accepted on the College’s behalf a set of bagpipes donated by the family of the late Paul Coltrin ’59, who received the instrument when he was a member of Monmouth’s band.

VINTAGE BAGPIPES: This is the instrument that was donated to the College by the family of the lat... VINTAGE BAGPIPES: This is the instrument that was donated to the College by the family of the late Paul Coltrin, a member of the Class of 1959 who was among the first members of Monmouth's pipe band.“He passed on July 22, and it was his kids’ wish that his bagpipes be donated to the College,” said Kimzey.

Made by the Glasgow-based bagpipe company R. G. Hardie & Co., the pipes are at least 65 years old and are “worth a lot,” said Kimzey.

“I’m going to work on getting them appraised,” he said. “It’s been a dream of mine to find something like this, and instead of having to go out and find it, it came right to my door. I’m very thankful that the Coltrin family did this.”

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