Bagpipers inspire hope through song

First responders play at dusk amid COVID-19 crisis

Nick Puckett
npuckett@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/5/20

Alone in a field at the edge of the Cottonwood subdivision in Parker, firefighter Dave Carrigan stood tall and stiff as he played his bagpipes. The sun started to set April 22 at about 7:46 p.m. As …

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Bagpipers inspire hope through song

First responders play at dusk amid COVID-19 crisis

Posted

Alone in a field at the edge of the Cottonwood subdivision in Parker, firefighter Dave Carrigan stood tall and stiff as he played his bagpipes.

The sun started to set April 22 at about 7:46 p.m. As sunlight disappeared, Carrigan’s few regular fans gathered to hear him play. A handful of neighbors ventured to the slight overlook at the foot of Carrigan’s driveway. Some driving by on Parker Road across the field to the east pulled off, listening to the notes slice through the droning of passing cars.

Carrigan, a firefighter for South Metro Fire Rescue for 29 years, has marched out to the field bordering his house every evening since March 29, three days after the stay-at-home order began, to play traditional marches and songs until the sun sets.

“It’s to show solidarity not only for everybody who’s fighting the disease, but all our brothers and sisters, firefighters, police officers, paramedics. … They’re kind of taking a beating out there,” Carrigan said. “It’s to show we’re all in this together and we have each other’s back.”

Carrigan is one of many first responders regionwide playing bagpipes at dusk to inspire hope amid the stay-at-home orders and COVID-19 crisis.

First responders throughout Colorado are participating in Pipers for Sundown Solidarity, a movement organized by the Colorado Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Band, a bagpipe band made up of 75 firefighters and police officers throughout the state.

Thousands of pipers play songs from their respective homes at the same time each night as the sun sets in an ongoing effort to encourage strength and resolve in the community.

‘Next phases of normalcy’

Mike West, fire chief for Front Range Fire Rescue, is the Pipe Major for the Colorado Emerald Society. He helped start the pipe band at South Metro Fire in 2002. He resigned from South Metro in June 2019. Front Range Fire covers Johnstown, Milliken, Larimer and Weld counties.

“Our guys and gals are working every day at their police stations and precincts and firehouses dealing with the pandemic face-to-face,” West said. “It was a great way to wind down from the day spread a little hope to the neighbors and make sure they still know we’re still out there fighting the good fight every day.”

Carrigan does not always deck himself out in his kilt and uniform. He said he plays because it brings a smile to his neighbor’s faces and connects people when they’re more isolated than ever.

Pipers in the group play every day and play whatever they want, except on Sundays, when the group collectively decides on a single song to play at the same time together.

The Colorado Emerald Society announced on its Facebook page April 24 that members would stop playing bagpipes nightly beginning May 3. Pipers still play on Sundays “until the state moves to the next phases of normalcy,” the post reads.

“We can’t express our gratitude enough for your cheers, posts, shares and love. When we get through these social distancing steps and back to holding events, we’re looking forward to seeing you all at a big celebration,” the post reads.

West said the Colorado Emerald Society plans on holding a celebration to make up for losing the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

‘A droning feeling’

The movement, which started shortly after the stay-at-home order began, is steeped in tradition.

Soldiers began marching to the sound of bagpipes in Scotland in the 1400s. The instrument is used often as a morale booster for the military. South Metro Fire Rescue and Castle Rock Fire and Rescue Department each have Pipe and Drum bands.

Carrigan has been playing pipes for about 11 years, around the time South Metro Rescue’s pipe and drum band started.

West, who has been playing bagpipes on and off for 30 years, noted the way the vibrations from the drones blaring from the player’s shoulder hits you.

“It runs through you,” West said. “A lot of people, prior to this, the only time they hear bagpipes is at a funeral, so they associate that droning note with an emotional event. … To me, it’s that kind of droning feeling. It kind of gets down to your soul sometimes.”

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