St. Kate’s grad combines radiography experience with passion for bagpipes

Katie Brady ’22 returned to campus in September to X-ray bagpipe parts for an experiment in sound.

On a visit to St. Kate’s radiography lab in September, Katie Brady ’22 brought something not usually seen in medical settings — her bagpipes. 

Brady graduated with a degree in radiography and is now an X-ray technologist at Abbott Northwestern. She is also an avid bagpiper in her spare time. With her return to St. Kate’s, she planned to combine the two areas of her life in an experiment. By X-raying different bagpipe chanters (the “pipe” part of the bagpipe, which produces the melody), Brady and her bagpipe band were hoping to compare the internal measurements that affect the acoustics of the instruments.

“[One] chanter belongs to a bagpipe band that won the World Pipe Band Championships in the earlier 2000s,” Brady explained. “We want to emulate their sound, so we want to get the internal dimensions of this one.” She was looking primarily for the dimensions of the inside part, called the “throat,” whose shape affects the timbre and intonation of the chanter. 

“The other big way people do this is they cut the chanter down the middle, which destroys the chanter,” Brady said. “Or you can try to make a cast by putting putty in there, but that’s messy, and how do you get it back out? This is kind of an experiment to see if it works.”

After X-raying three different chanters side by side, Brady was able to look at the images and see the throats clearly. The X-rays made it possible to discern the subtle differences between the throats. 

In the lab, she was joined by her former professor, Kari Fleming, instructor of radiography. “I was grateful to have Kari's help with the imaging,” Brady said. “She reminded me how different things, like magnification, could have an effect on measurements. It was cool to experiment with techniques used in orthopedic clinics to get our measurements.”

Likewise, Fleming was happy to play a part in this unique experiment. “I loved being able to assist Katie as she showed her both her musical and her imaging skills to teach me about one of her passions,” Fleming said. “I was very intrigued and excited to see where she was going with it.”

Brady has been playing bagpipes since she was 15. Her parents were big fans of Celtic music, and got her hooked, too. Upon moving from South Dakota to the Twin Cities for college, she joined the Twin Cities Metro Pipe Band and has been playing with them ever since. The band practices regularly and competes around the Midwest during the competition season, which wrapped up at the end of the summer. 

“One of the things that I loved about the radiography program at St. Kate's was that our professors were very supportive of our lives outside of school,” Brady said. “They were willing to work with me when I traveled for gigs or music competitions.”  

The jury is still out on whether the bagpipe band will be able to harness the winning chanter’s sound for its next competition, but with bagpiping — as with radiography — the thrill of mastering a skill can be its own reward. “I get a lot of satisfaction just from really getting a tune down solid,” said Brady. “I love coming away from a performance or a music competition knowing that I played to the best of my ability.