Laureano Thomas-Sanchez began bagpiping at the age of 11. He took lessons from prominent teachers, joined the Great Lakes Pipe Band and ultimately enrolled at Alma College. In recent years, he has competed in multiple solo events and placed in the top three in several competitions, including the North American Championships.
In fall 2017, the sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio, achieved a new level of success, landing him in elite company as one of the top amateur solo competitors in North America.
Laureano took first place in all four events in grade one — the category for the highest standard of amateur players — at the 2017 Ligonier Highland Games in Ligonier, Pa. Then he received the ultimate recognition; he was invited to compete in two premier competitions — the Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational Oct. 7 in Scotia, New York, and The George Sheriff Memorial Invitational Nov. 18 in Hamilton, Ont.
“Receiving both of these invitations is an exceptionally big deal in the piping world,” says Drew Duncan, director of piping at Alma College. “These contests are viewed as stepping stones to a very successful professional competitive career — with past winners of both competitions currently ranking among the world’s top professional solo competitors.
“Laureano has been working hard on his piping,” adds Duncan. “He is driven but also grounded, practical and down to earth. He has had a lifetime devotion to piping.”
Adding the ‘Pressure Factor’
At the recent Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational, Laureano placed first in the piobaireachd event — which features the classical music of the great highland bagpipe, as opposed to marches, reels and jigs — and was second overall when the judges tabulated the final results.
“My invitation to these contests came within quick succession of each other, and I was ecstatic when I received the messages from the contest organizers that I had been invited,” says Laureano. “Attending both of these events has been a long-term goal of mine. I spent a lot of time traveling and competing over the course of this year to gain the credentials to earn the invitations.
“Solo piping contests are the main driver for me to continuously improve and evolve my playing,” he says. “Playing pipes on their own is fun, but adding the pressure factor and the chance to compare my playing to other players in a solo contest makes it all the more enjoyable for me.”
Laureano typically practices three times a day for 30 minutes at a time. His practice schedule is designed to mimic the format used at invitationals that require the contestants to play in the morning, afternoon and evening.
A music performance major with a concentration on bagpipes, Laureano plans to perform professionally as well as teach music at the high school level.
National Champions — Four Times
Laureano is not alone in achieving recognition and awards. The Alma College Pipe Band has experienced a steady stream of competitive success that includes winning the U.S. Pipe Band Championship four times — once in grade five and three times in grade four.
This year’s band comprises eight pipers and 10 drummers. In September, the band placed first overall in grade four at the Ligonier Highland Games in Pennsylvania.
“The trip was a success on several levels,” says Duncan. “Both piping judges marked the level of the pipe section as above grade level for grade four bands. The drummers placed first as well. We did well competitively, but we also generated a lot of discussion about the Alma College Pipe Band Program. Our students are directly involved in the band and play a key role in the success of the program.”
Alma’s program has the resources to develop and test pipers as soloists and band players, says Laureano.
“In the piping world there are a large number of pipers who play with a competition band and have experience in solos, but there are also many that do not have experience in either of those areas,” he says. “Andrew Duncan has played in solo contests and pipe bands and has the knowledge and experience to develop players from a large array of skill level and individual experience.”