Bagpiper plays to celebrate and remember those forgotten
Every Saturday for the past two months, as the sun sets, the sound of a lone bagpiper can be heard drifting from the gazebo in Stone Mountain Village.
The bagpipes have had a presence in Stone Mountain for more than 30 years, since a resident founded Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums USA. Each year, Stone Mountain Park also hosts the Scottish Highland Games, at which the pipers perform.
“It’s just a great tradition to draw people to downtown,” Rich MacPhee, business manager of the Atholl Highlanders said. MacPhee, who has performed under the gazebo before, said the group consists of approximately 40 bagpipers living in the Atlanta area.
“It’s a great chance for everyone in the band to go out and play a solo engagement like that,” MacPhee said. “It’s also good for us to give back to the community.”
Although the Atholl Highlanders is a nonprofit organization, MacPhee said the group charges the city a modest stipend to pay for expenses.
The bagpipe is an instrument not often seen in this part of the world but MacPhee said playing the pipes is a tradition dating back hundreds of years. MacPhee also noted that the instrument is so versatile that it’s as likely to heard at a wedding as at a funeral.
“The pipes always bring a kind of solemnness and some joy. It’s wonderful what it can bring on these Saturday afternoons—these tunes can be a bit lighter but always end with a bit of remembrance,” MacPhee said.
Those who want to dedicate a song to a love one who has passed away or someone they want to remember can provide a donation and the piper will perform a song in the person’s honor.
The idea to have a piper on the square each Saturday was presented to Susan Ryles, the executive director of Main Street Stone Mountain, by resident Chris Strawbridge.
“I was actually leaving a city council meeting and it was around dusk—off in the distance I heard some bagpipe music and I looked across the street and the bagpipers were practicing in the church parking lot,” Strawbridge said.
Strawbridge, who collaborates with the nonprofit Georgia Foundation for Public Spaces, said he has been working with the city and presenting different ideas to bring more people into the community and bring people closer together. He proposed the idea of having a lone piper play at sunset and, Ryles said, so far, there has been a very positive response.
“We kind of brainstormed and got some donations for the first month and we started soliciting donations from the community to have this be an ongoing presence in the village,” Ryles said.
So far, they have gotten enough donations to fund the weekly pipers through the end of January 2013. Ryles said the response to the bagpipers has been interesting. Some residents will wander over to the gazebo to watch the performance and passing cars will slow down to see what’s happening.
“We haven’t had huge crowds yet but we feel that it’s something that will grow,” Ryles said.
MacPhee said the pipers’ presence beneath the gazebo is a symbiotic relationship—good for the Atholl Highlanders and the city.
“We’re a nonprofit and people give up a lot of time to do this,” MacPhee said.