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  • The call of the pipes

    Medford man's handmade bagpipes are in demand because of silver engraving
  • Born and raised in Ashland, Murray Huggins learned in 1988 to play the bagpipes from a local master and was soon building his own pipes and chanters.
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  • Born and raised in Ashland, Murray Huggins learned in 1988 to play the bagpipes from a local master and was soon building his own pipes and chanters.
    In 1999, he met his wife, Yoko, a Japanese exchange student, and they moved to east Medford for affordable housing and had two children.
    Here, Huggins offered the bagpipes on the newly invented Internet, but orders only dribbled in. He stuck with it, not focusing on it as a business, but as an art that could be marketed as a business.
    The missing piece, he soon found out, was the artful Celtic engraving on the sterling silver and nickel bagpipe fixtures, a fine finishing touch that has made his pipes, under the company name Colin Kyo, so desired worldwide that there is now a one-year waiting list. Profits, he says, are soaring into the stratosphere.
    Huggins, 46, may be found in his garage, bending over a small table by the washing machine or operating a tiny blowtorch on his workbench, with Yoko doing buffing and polishing and looking for engraving mistakes.
    "I have to sell everything I make," he notes. "That's my first point. The secret to my business model is to do the best work. Don't ever do anything that's shoddy. That's why our business has exploded."
    His flute-size chanters sell for $300 and bagpipes are in the $1,700 to $8,000 range. Wood parts are made of African black wood because, he says, it projects the best sound.
    His three distributors, in British Columbia, Michigan and Australia, send him new orders daily.
    Huggins works 10 to 15 hours a day, he says.
    "It's very exciting work, very fulfilling, and I feel very grateful. I get to spend all day, every day with Yoko. We're inseparable," he adds, noting they have had to learn how to communicate more and more skillfully in each other's lingo.
    "I'm the one who has the tantrums, and she's the one who calms me down," he says. "It takes a lot of time to do what we do. With her help, we've cut it in half. She is quality control and makes sure any flaw is a do-over or becomes part of the art in creative ways."
    In the beginning, the bagpipe business seemed like a questionable way to support a growing family, he says, but the engraving of the metal fittings put it over the top.
    "He's doing good compared to when we started," says Yoko. "We've started making money. I hadn't looked at the profit in a long time, and when I did, it was really exciting, but we try to keep it fun."
    Yoko takes their children, Colin, 14, and Aubrey, 12, back to Japan to see grandparents and other relatives on regular visits — and she tries to keep them fluent in her native language. Their daughter wants to be a doctor. Their son isn't sure yet what he wants to be, but neither express much interest in carrying on the family business.
    The couple's business site is www.colinkyobagpipes.com.
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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