Day Job/Night Job: Fledgling Auto Body Technician is Well-Known, Dedicated Bagpiper
Written by Ed Attanasio, Autobody News
Published February 7, 2019
Kristopher Muse, a metal technician at Mike’s Auto Body, is only 25, but he has been playing the bagpipes for 14 years and is a member of one of the largest nationally acclaimed bagpipe bands in the country.
Muse joined the Prince Charles Pipe Band (PCPB) in South San Francisco, CA, when he was only 11. J.W. Bill Merriman, former member of the City of San Francisco Caledonian Pipe Band, taught him the art of bagpiping. The band, which began with a small number of students, has trained approximately 500 pipers and drummers and has been competing in the U.S., Canada and Scotland for more than 50 years.
To be a good metal technician and excel as a piper, Muse knows training is the only way to get there.
"To fix a car properly, you have to be thinking and multi-tasking all the time, and playing the pipes is very similar," he said. "We have to memorize the music, and there are a lot of different things going on when I'm piping."
In February 2017, Muse graduated from Mike's Auto Body's training program in Antioch, CA. He is currently working at the MSO’s Vallejo, CA, location as a metal technician.
"To complete the training program at Mike's, I went through a lot of classroom instruction along with performing hands-on repairs on metal, plastic, panel removal and vehicle construction on salvaged vehicles. After I completed the program, I had already earned I-CAR Training Pro Level 1, and I am now also fully Car-O-Liner-certified. The director of the program is Lupe Algood, who is an amazing teacher who sets up all his students for ongoing success in this industry."
Since Muse’s graduation from the program, Algood has watched him progress within the company.
"When he entered the program, he didn't know much about cars, but he has worked hard to learn the trade, and his focus is incredible," Algood said. "He is a hard worker and stands out for his commitment to the company and the craft."
After graduation, Muse went through Mike's Auto Body's mentoring program, shadowing journeyman techs and learning the trade by doing it all himself.
"It's great working with someone who knows what they're doing," he said. "I've had two amazing mentors, Jim Dowton and Gary Bissitt, who are awesome teachers. I am currently working with Gary at Mike's Vallejo location, and I learn something new every day. In three or four years, I hope to become a journeyman technician and continue on this path."
Muse plays the bagpipes at a wide range of events, including the Benevolence car giveaways that Mike's Auto Body holds every year. His connection to the instrument goes way back, he said.
"My grandmother Jean is from Manchester, England, and some of my ancestors are Scottish, so I believe that piping is in my blood,” Muse said. “My grandma introduced me to the bagpipes, and we would play them along with records. Two of my great uncles played pipes in the Black Watch, the famous Royal Highland Regiment. I was 11 when I started taking one-on-one lessons before being able to play with the PCPB during practices held on Sundays."
A big highlight for Muse's piping career took place when he competed in the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland as part of the Prince Charles Pipe Band. This iconic event was first held in 1906. The annual Cowal Highland Gathering attracts more than 220 bands from 15 different countries, and the winners are recognized as world champions.
"We were up against the best in the world, and it was a big thrill," Muse said. "We did not make it to the qualifiers, but we're talking about going back next year. It was a great learning experience."
Excelling at playing the bagpipes isn’t easy.
"You blow into the blowpipe to fill the bag, which you then apply pressure to with your arm to squeeze the air out of the three drones and the Chanter," Muse said. "While air is flowing through them, the drones and chanter each emit sound. Your hands go on the chanter, and that's the part that plays the melody."
One bagpipe teacher remarked online that playing the bagpipes is trying to "keep a hole-filled bag inflated while also carrying a chair on your shoulder, marching around in a kilt, and keeping your fingers moving."
As a piper in popular demand, Muse constantly plays at parades, band competitions, corporate gigs, funerals and other events as a band member or solo act. He knows at least 40 songs by heart but will play some of the more well-known ones if requested, including “Amazing Grace,” “When the Battle is Over,” “Green Hills of the Tyrol” and “Scotland the Brave.”