December 2003

Young pipe band leader is seasoned pro

He may be young, but the new director of The Citadel Pipe Band is ranked among the world's best pipers.

Lt. Jim Dillahey, the new director of The Citadel Pipe Band, tunes Cadet Benjamin Weiss' drones with a digital tuner that indicates the pitch being played on the chanter.

Lt. Jim Dillahey graduated from The Citadel in 2001 with a political science (law and legal) degree. He worked several jobs after graduating - Trader Joe's clerk, pipe teacher, pipe salesman and performer for hire. He also got married and bought a house. And in July 2003 he put graduate school on hold to join The Citadel teaching staff.

Dillahey replaces Maj. Sandy Jones as pipe band director. Jones, who retired in June amid great popularity, came to The Citadel in 1978 -- the same year Dillahey was born in New Jersey -- and helped bring international attention to the pipe band.

In 1991, the Regimental Band and Pipes became the first military college band ever to be selected to participate in the world famous Edinburgh Military Tatoo, a month-long nightly event of music, pageantry and demonstrations by military organizations from many nations. So if he has heard it once, Dillahey has heard it a million times already - he's got big shoes to fill.

"He's got awfully big feet, so he won't have any problem," said a joking Maj. Herb Day, director of music.

Day said age was not a factor in the decision to hire Dillahey, who at 25 has been playing bagpipes for 15 years already, winning competitions here and abroad.

He is currently pipe major of the City of Charleston Police Department Pipe Band, which regularly performs and competes across the United States. Dillahey is also a member of the City of Washington Pipe Band, which is currently the top pipe band in the country. He has competed at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, the premier pipe contest in the world, at the North American Pipe Band Championships in Ontario, Canada and the Canadian and U.S. Pipe Band Championships. Dillahey was awarded Grade 1 player - the best status among amateurs - in 1997.

"I didn't even think about his age when we hired him," Day said. "I had had a chance to observe him as a graduate student and his interaction with students and his technical expertise won him immediate respect. He brings with him a musical maturity and a youthful enthusiasm that is contagious. We are very fortunate to have him."

According to The Citadel Pipe Band website, the group was originally organized in 1955 by Citadel President Gen. Mark W. Clark to enhance esprit de corps of the Corps of Cadets. The Pipe Band is composed of cadets from within the Regimental Band, Pipes and Drums who have had experience playing the bagpipe or who have had other musical experience and learn to play at the beginning of their freshman year.

While the Pipe Band, which is now 34 members strong, performs regularly with the Regimental Band, it also performs alone at a variety of functions in the Charleston area and the state.

In the 6th grade, Dillahey saw The Citadel Pipe Band at the Miami Highland Games for the first time. "I thought then, 'Boy wouldn't it be cool to go to college there and play pipes,' " Dillahey said. He met Jones at a competition and stayed in touch with him through high school.

While he considered attending a military academy, Dillahey decided to come to The Citadel instead. He joined the pipe band and stayed with it throughout his four years in the Corps of Cadets, becoming pipe major his senior year. Dillahey, however, never imagined that a few years after getting his diploma he would lead a band he had admired since he was a teen.

"I feel kind of blessed that at age 25 I am here doing this," Dillahey said. "For a piper this is an absolute dream."

That's because there are only about six teaching positions like Dillahey's in the nation. He is the youngest in the nation to be teaching and he is the youngest pipe band director The Citadel has ever had.

"We are very lucky to have him," Day said. "I think The Citadel Pipe Band has a very bright future ahead."