Piper plays for President at White House

Grahame Harris. INNT 11-532CON Pic by John Kelly
Grahame Harris. INNT 11-532CON Pic by John Kelly

A local piper helped kick off the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the USA by playing at a special event hosted by President Barack Obama.

Grahame Harris, from Templepatrick, was among a small group of musicians from the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland invited to play at a lunch hosted by Mr Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as part of the annual St Patrick’s Day festivities in Washington DC.

The 23-year-old and his fellow musicians accepted the last-minute invite from Mr Obama to play a special programme of Irish music at the St Patrick’s reception in the White House on Tuesday afternoon (March 15).

Grahame, Director of Music with the Ballyclare-based Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band, has been a member of the youth orchestra since 2006. After taking a break while studying for his mathematics degree at Imperial College, London, he returned to the orchestra in 2014.

Speaking to the Times from Washington DC on Tuesday, shortly before heading to the White House, Grahame said: “I only heard about the invite on Tuesday afternoon (March 8) to say there was a possibility that we could be playing at the White House this week. I was asked if I’d be interested in going and I jumped at the chance. It was very much a last-minute call, but it’s a call I’m delighted I got.”

A group of just 12 musicians - Grahame on Highland pipes, a Uilleann piper and 10 violinists - from the 100-strong youth orchestra were chosen for the US trip. They performed a special programme of 18 pieces of music in the library at the White House as the President and Vice President welcomed around 600 guests, including a number of foreign dignitaries, to the reception.

The young musicians were also hoping to be invited to meet Mr Obama after completing their official duties at the function.

“It is a great honour to given the opportunity to play for the President at the White House, and maybe even get the chance to meet him. It’s just an incredible honour and it will be the highlight of this year and many years to come,” Grahame continued.

The former Glengormley Primary School pupil, who was part of Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band’s Grade 4A World Championship winning line-up, is Band Master at Campbell College in Belfast and also teaches pipes and drums in several local schools.

Despite having to self-fund the trip to Washington at short notice, Grahame doesn’t have any regrets about going - or the fact that he’ll miss his old school’s big day out at Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium on March 17.

“It’s the sort of invite you can’t say no to,” he added. “Campbell are in the Schools’ Cup final this week and I have a lot going on at work, but I just couldn’t say no to this trip. We don’t get back to Dublin until Friday, so I’ll miss the cup final. I would have loved to have been there, but I await the result with great anticipation.”