Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums is the Peoria area’s premier pipe band.

Originally founded as the Peoria Pipe Band in 1963 by Tommy Livingstone—the “father of piping in central Illinois”—today it has nearly 30 members and regularly competes in Highland games across the Midwest—even playing the World Pipe Band Championship in Glasgow, Scotland.

In addition to performing at parades and private events throughout the year, the nonprofit group is dedicated to preserving Scottish tradition in central Illinois by offering tuition-free bagpiping and drumming lessons. Whether you’re already musically inclined or have never picked up an instrument in your life, the band accepts any and all aspiring players.

“Our members come from very diverse backgrounds,” explains Heather Penne, an instructor and bagpiper in Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums. “People join us because they’re interested in learning more about their Scottish or Irish heritage, or maybe it’s just because they love the sound of the bagpipes.”

A member for the past decade, Penne says the band, along with being one of Peoria’s best-kept secrets, is an entertaining hobby—and a great conversation starter. “It’s unique,” she notes. “You always have something to talk about… and usually you’re the only bagpiper in the room!”

Besides making new friends and participating in special events, Penne says Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums members also find fulfillment in taking up the challenge to carry on Livingston’s cause. “You have to be a little bit stubborn to do this,” she explains. “It’s takes a little bit of work and a lot of practice, but it’s very rewarding.”

Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums practices Thursday nights at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located at 3601 N. North Street in Peoria. Beginner piping and drumming lessons are offered from 5:30 to 6:30pm. To sign up, email[email protected]. Learn more about Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums at celticcrosspipesanddrums.org. a&s