By Traviss Witt
The Ravine is a place where many students go to take a break or perhaps just quietly relax and read a book. But this year the Ravine has come to be known for another thing: the bagpipe-playing Lee Espinoza, a fashion design major from Middletown, Ohio.
Espinoza has become a regular fixture at the open-air auditorium, which he often visits in the afternoons to practice a few bagpipe standards, such as “Greensleeves” and “Amazing Grace.”
Espinoza said he decided the Ravine would be the most suitable place on campus to practice. Not only is it spacious enough to dampen the thunderous sound of the bagpipes, it’s also very open, so students can come and go as they please, he said.
And while some students pack up their things and leave once Espinoza begins to play, others say they enjoy the distinctive Celtic music.
“Surprisingly, the bagpipes are great background music for studying,” Chad Rucker, an undeclared sophomore from Richmond, said. “It always makes me happy when I’m studying in the Ravine and Lee shows up.”
Espinoza said he first discovered the bagpipes several years ago in his hometown. His high school band was marching in a Memorial Day parade, and once the presentation was over, he wound up at a local cemetery where several individuals were playing the song “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
“It was so impressive, and right then and there I said to myself ‘I want to do that,'” he said. With seven years of flute experience under his belt, Espinoza expected to excel at this comparable instrument, but he found it much more difficult than he thought.
“At first it was literally like, ‘fail,'” he said. For several months, Espinoza played his practice chanter, which is a smaller, quieter, more portable recorder-like instrument commonly used to practice the bagpipes.
Once he was comfortable playing tunes on that, he upgraded to the full-scale bagpipes he uses today.
Espinoza acknowledges that bagpipes are a rarity on college campuses, or even in mainstream America. But he said he is a big fan of diversity in all things, and that he’d “like to see more emphasis put on variety.”
Gary Lynn, Espinoza’s current roommate, said he rarely gets to hear his friend’s distinctive talent. Espinoza doesn’t play in their dorm room simply because the instrument is so loud.
“It’s certainly a unique thing,” Lynn said. “I’ve definitely never even known a bagpiper before, much less had one as a roommate.”
Lynn added that his roommate typically goes out to play around 3 p.m. and doesn’t return until three hours later or so, and he often comes back completely exhausted.
“It must be hard to play such a strange instrument,” Lynn said.
Although he loves music, Espinoza’s dream is to leave his mark on the world of fashion. He is currently an apparel design and merchandising major at Eastern.
He said he resents the fact that women’s fashions offer so much more variety than the male counterpart, and he said he wants to expand mens’ options.
He said he’s currently working on a line of custom clothing for men that will mixes elements of costume design with everyday clothing.
Espinoza freely admits that much of what he does is outside of the ordinary, and he said that he only wishes more students likewise would follow their muse.
“Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it,” he said. “Don’t let anyone try to hold you back.