BATESVILLE — Daniel Armstrong said he enjoyed all the sights at the Lyon College Scottish Festival when his mother took him there as a child, but it’s what he heard that captured his attention.
“It was Lyon that got me interested in bagpipes,” he said. “My mom went there in the ’90s, and she would still come to the Scottish festivals, and she would take me when I was young.
“They have little shops set up in tents. They sold all kinds of stuff, from kilt uniform accessories — there was one that had swords, so when I was like 4 or 5, I thought that was really neat.”
The bagpipes, though, made the biggest impression on Armstrong.
“I thought it would be really nice to learn how to play them,” he said.
The 21-year-old Lyon College senior started taking bagpipe lessons when he was 11 and has been a member of the Lyon College Pipe Band for the past three years.
He started by getting lessons from members of the Conway Fire Department’s pipe band, but the firefighters didn’t always have uninterrupted time to devote to him.
Armstrong said his family found Lyle Adams, a bagpipe teacher in England, Arkansas, who taught him the basics.
“I did not start off playing a full set [of bagpipes]. There’s a smaller version that is like a stick. After a while, I started on the bagpipes. I grew into them” he said.
“The bagpipes were really difficult to learn. It took years and years to get to where I am now, to be able to pick them up. I love to play them; I play them every day. It took patience and diligence. I almost quit a few times, but I’m so glad I didn’t. I was a lazy kid,” Armstrong said, laughing.
His experience at Lyon College changed everything, he said.
“It was kind of eye-opening — we have one of the best pipers in the U.S. named Jimmy Bell,” Armstrong said. Bell is director of the Lyon College Pipe Band and Dancers and the Scottish Heritage Program.
The Lyon College website calls Bell “one of the most accomplished North American Highland pipers of the last century.”
“He really inspired me to do better,” Armstrong said.
Bell praised Armstrong’s skills as well.
“Daniel is an excellent player and has come along very well in the past several years,” Bell said. “He is by far one of our most dependable members, even with all the other activities he is involved in on campus.”
A son of Amy and Edward Armstrong of Cabot, formerly of Jacksonville, Daniel Armstrong said he knew for years that he wanted to attend Lyon College because of his Scottish heritage.
Then he immersed himself in the pipe band, which performs at football games, and “just yesterday, we went to Mississippi to play at a Presbyterian church,” he said.
“Then sometimes, I do stuff on my own or with one other piper. Last month, I did a gig in Hot Springs, where I played a children’s fundraiser. I just went through some of the tunes I knew,” he said, including “Scotland the Brave.”
“Recently, I started to do really well in competitions,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he won first place overall in Grade 4 of the Northeast Florida Highland Games and first place overall in Grade 4 of another Florida competition. Grade 5 is beginning level, he said, then it goes in descending order. After his most recent competition, Armstrong said, he moved up to Grade 3.
Armstrong also aced his recent Pharmacy College Admission Test — he scored 98 percent. He plans to attend the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Pharmacy School in Little Rock.
“I’ve liked chemistry since I was a high school student. It was one of the things that really clicked with me,” he said. “I fell pretty far from the tree in terms of liking chemistry.”
Armstrong said his mother works at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, and his dad, who was a lawyer, works for the state of Arkansas as director of state procurement.
Daniel has an older brother, Will Armstrong, who works in the UCA cafeteria; and two younger sisters, Sylvie Armstrong, a junior at Cabot High School, and Hannah Armstrong, a ninth-grader.
“I had the luxury of knowing what I wanted to do when I came to college,” Daniel Armstrong said. “I thought about biology, but it would have been such a time commitment.”
Not that chemistry isn’t. He said he takes 18 hours of coursework a semester.
“Now I’m doing really cool stuff with chemistry, working with Dr. Irosha Nawarathne to help her conduct drug discovery research,” he said.
Armstrong said they are working with a class of antibiotics, azithromycin, used to treat tuberculosis, among other bacterial infections.
“I’m seeing how I can modify the drug to overcome the antibiotic resistance,” he said.
“We’ve made a few small breakthroughs that are exciting,” Armstrong said, adding that he was able to modify the drug somewhat.
He said his major alone could take up all his time.
“I’ve had to take 18 hours about every semester. … It’s been difficult to stay caught up in classes,” he said.
Armstrong’s nimble fingers get a workout on something other than the bagpipes; he is a member of the new eSports video-game team with the Super Smash Brothers.
Armstrong is vice president of the Mortar Board Honor Society for seniors, which selects its members for demonstrating leadership and scholarship on campus, he said.
“Last week, I helped set up the [leadership] conference, where a bunch of high school students came in, and we had a little conference, and … the professors came and talked to them,” Armstrong said.
He joined Zeta Beta Tau fraternity as a freshman, served as treasurer and was president his junior year.
Armstrong said he might not have been as involved at a bigger university.
“[Lyon’s] got a smaller community. I think it’s more tight-knit. … It just kind of helps me put on more hats around campus,” he said. “I was able to interact with the students and professors in a more personal way than I could at a larger university.”
Armstrong also serves as a resident assistant on the second floor of McRae Hall on campus, a position he’s held for three years.
“I make sure nothing is going wrong on that floor, essentially, … and I’m being a resource to them,” he said.
“It’s been overwhelming, but I think one of the best things that helped me out was just keeping my hobbies and not abandoning them, so I had something else to keep me going,” Armstrong said.
He’s applying to UAMS Pharmacy School, but he’ll keep balancing all his activities at Lyon until then, especially his love of playing the bagpipes.
“I’m worried that pharmacy school will take up too much time, and I’ll lose it or won’t keep it up,” he said of his bagpipe playing.
Bell encouraged Armstrong to keep playing.
“He will, of course, be loaded down at pharmacy school but should get a little practice in. It’s a great way to relieve the stress of school, a lot like golf in that respect. You can’t be good if you’re worrying about other things,” Bell said.
Armstrong won’t hear of letting his passion go.
“I think keeping hobbies like that is really important, no matter what you’re doing,” he said. “I don’t want to stop.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or email@example.com.