Meet Henry Paluch: St. Mike’s Resident Bagpiper

If you find yourself out for a stroll near Toronto’s Queen’s Park and hear the lament of a Scottish hymn, you may be hearing St. Mike’s student Henry Paluch practising his bagpipes.

Henry Paluch
Henry Paluch

“When I play in Queen’s Park, I never quite get a full practice in before someone stops and asks about it,” said Paluch. “It’s not an instrument you often see in the city and people are really interested.”

Paluch is a second-year Philosophy and Ethics, Society and Law student who lives in residence at St. Mike’s. In his first winter on campus, he realized that residence life presented a challenge: where could Henry practise?

“I didn’t want to disrupt other students and I couldn’t use the normal common spaces because they’re not soundproof,” he said.

So he approached Duane Rendle, Dean of Students, about this predicament. Rendle agreed that it was an unusual problem. “It took the collective creativity of a few different folks to find a solution, but we eventually did,” said Rendle.

Paluch was pleased with the result. A practice space was found in the basement of Founders House where the sound would be muffled enough not to disturb others on campus and Paluch was granted a way to access the space after office hours.

Henry Paluch plays the bagpipes at Fall Convocation 2023
Henry Paluch plays the bagpipes at Fall Convocation

In exchange for the accommodation, he was asked if he would play at special events on campus. “Whenever St. Mike’s needs a piper, I’m there! I really enjoy performing and I’m thankful that the College gave me a place to practise,” said Paluch, who has played at the Faculty of Theology and undergraduate convocations, Remembrance Day ceremonies and special events at St. Basil’s Church.

“His playing has always added an extra helping of pomp and circumstance to these special occasions,” said Rendle.

Paluch first started playing the bagpipes at the age of 10. “I went to one of the only schools in Ontario that offered the bagpipes. We were given sheets to sign up for co-curriculars and, on a whim, I checked off bagpiping. I’ve loved it ever since.” He attended St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario, which is known for its piping and drumming program. By the time he was in high school he was the Pipe Major of St. Andrew’s College Pipe Band.

He continues to play as a member of St. Andrew’s College Association Pipe Band, which performs at Highland games held throughout Ontario during the summer. The Highland games are Scottish festivals that often include individual bagpipe competitions in which Paluch competes as well. From there he has been invited to compete at invitationals throughout the year, including the George Sherriff Memorial Invitational and the Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational. Both events bring pipers from all over North America to compete at the top amateur level. In 2018, he travelled to Scotland to take part in the world championships with Ryan Russell Memorial Pipe Band, a Toronto youth pipe band.

With the return of spring and nice weather, his practices have moved outdoors again where they continue to garner a lot of attention. His friends from residence will often wave from a distance. “I met my residence don for the first time while practising. He’s a composition student at the Faculty of Music. He stopped to say hi and wanted to ask who I was,” he said.

Students and professors alike from the nearby Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto have been especially interested as it’s quite a bit different from other instruments. “Pipers like to say learning to play is like strangling an octopus because there’s a lot of moving parts. It’s like having three clarinets. To keep the sound going the bag gets filled with air and when you need to take a breath, you just squeeze the bag, kind of like a third lung,” he said.

Also, it is a novelty in the city. “You don’t hear them that often in Toronto, I suspect because of the noise. You wouldn’t want to play them in an apartment as they are an outdoor instrument,’’ said Paluch.