While residents of Springfield wait for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to end his stay-at-home order, two members of the community have gathered their bagpipes to lift the city’s spirits and raise money during the pandemic. Reporter Mike Smith watched them perform and has this story.
On a warm evening in a neighborhood near Washington Park, a father-son duo pick up their bagpipes in the middle of the doorway.
54-year-old Damon McParland and his teenage son, Aidan, play for a crowd of nearly 30 people.
They work with United Way of Central Illinois and the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln to raise money for small businesses and food banks affected by COVID-19. They call it “United We Pipe.”
For $25, Damon and Aidan will come to your driveway or somewhere outside your house and perform classic bagpipe tunes for 15 to 20 minutes.
Aidan said they have been playing bagpipes for five years.
“My sister [has] Scottish danced for her whole life, and five years ago, we went to Scotland and Ireland for her dance troupe, and then we just sort of picked it up after that,” Aiden said.
“When he came back, he was inspired to play the bagpipes,” Damon said. “He couldn’t drive to the lessons, so since I was driving him, I figured I may as well learn too.”
Damon said bagpipes are the ideal instrument for social distancing, since you can hear the music from down the block.
“One thing we're very strict about is letting the people who host know that social distancing must be followed,” Damon said. “So if people listen from their lawn, they can hear it from like 10 houses up, so there's no need whatsoever to get close together, but we can still enjoy the same music from a distance.”
Aidan said the first performance was just for a small gathering of family and friends to celebrate a birthday around St. Patrick’s Day - when social distancing requirements led to canceled celebrations and kept many from gathering.
“So I just thought, why not go on my porch and just play, and like a bunch of neighbors stood out of their houses because everyone could hear it, and it was just super rewarding,” Aidan said. “So we rolled with it and thought we could end up raising money with it.”
They set up an open bagpipe case where folks in the neighborhood could donate during the performance. During their first socially distant concert, they raised over $300.
The duo performs classic bagpiping pieces like Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave, and adds some more contemporary songs too.
With certain songs, the fingering can require a lot of speed – a skill Aidan brings to the table when playing a cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
Erin Weller hosted the duo’s second performance in honor of her mother, who passed away two years ago. When her husband heard about Aidan and Damon, she said he didn’t hesitate to book them for Mother’s Day weekend.
“Danny Boy was one song that Aidan and Damon played for me, and that drew a few tears,” Weller said. “I don’t know if you noticed, I kind of cried through the whole thing, but in a good way.”
Neighbors and walkers near Washington Park started filling the streets and sidewalks to watch the performance.
Weller said her mother was born and raised in Coleraine, a town in Northern Ireland. She said her Irish culture was everything to her mother, and she would have loved the bagpipe performance in her honor.
“I could just see my mother, wherever it is she is, looking down on me and what we were doing and what Damon and Aidan did for me and enjoying every moment of it,” Weller said.
So far, the duo has performed 10 concerts and are booked for 13 more through June. In that time, they’ve raised over $2700.