Shucks! Someone closed the door leaving little Carmen Novak on the outside.
Using her miniature drum sticks, she banged on the door. The notion of having a 2-year-old temper tantrum crossed her mind. But before it was in full swing, a tall person came to her rescue, opened the door and allowed the toddler, with a pink drum strapped around her neck, to slip into the practice room.
When Carmen was younger, the adults thought that the loud bagpipes and drums would frighten the little girl, but they never fazed her. And so for months now she’s demanded to be in the room with the musicians.
The Akron & District Pipe Band stood in a semi-circle inside Family of Faith United Methodist Church in Akron where members, from about 13 years of age to nearly 80, rehearse most Monday nights. In her handsome kilt, Carmen stood near her mommy, Zoe Fenshaw, who played the snare drums. Unlike most youngsters her age, the toddler from Stow stood still, only sitting on the floor occasionally to chew on her plastic drum sticks.
A few feet away, drum major Tim Barton of Parma also stood tall with a mace in his hand. He kept his eyes mostly closed as he mouthed the words to the songs.
Bagpipes have a mesmerizing, sometimes sweetly haunting sound. It’s an instrument that’s rich in history. So much so that it was often a person’s Scottish or Irish heritage that first drew them to become a member of the band. But even if you have no Celtic blood, you’re still invited to become a member.
The Akron & District Pipe Band, the only group of its kind in Summit County, was founded in 1979. And it’s more than just the love and devotion to bagpipe and drum music that has kept the group together.
Most of the 20 members have known each other for more years than they can remember. And being around folks that long has made some of them treat each other like brothers.
“How are ya doing, uglier than me?” George Donaldson said to Barton as he walked into the room.
“That’s going some,” Barton retorted.
Donaldson, who plays the tenor drum, tells a visitor who overheard the exchange, “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.”
Donaldson’s wife, Marlene of Akron, carries a flag and is the band manager.
“I make the joke that I tell them where to go and what to do,” she said, laughing.
More than hot air
To those who don’t know how to play the bagpipes, there’s a general consensus that the person playing must have a lot of lung capacity.
“That’s the biggest misconception with the bagpipes. We’ve had kids learn to play,” explained George Donaldson. “It’s a matter of keeping the bag full. Once you get the bag full then the sound comes out of the bag so you have plenty of time to get a breath and breathe in again.”
So why does it look like the musicians are frowning when playing?
Barton’s wife, Diane, said it’s a concentration veil.
“You have to be very coordinated — squeezing the bag with an elbow and … playing a tune with the chanter [the pipe portion of the bagpipe with finger holes for playing the melody].”
Those in the band who don’t play the pipes joke that those who do are full of hot air.
Jim Fraser, who teaches Spanish at Hudson’s Western Reserve Academy, just grinned and shook his head when being teased.
“Like anything else, you need a lot of practice” to play the pipes — something Fraser has been at for about 30 years.
Marlene Donaldson said the band was thrilled to play last year with the Tuscarawas Philharmonic Orchestra at Kent State Tuscarawas Campus.
Other notable performances include opening for Rod Stewart (yep, you read that right) at Blossom Music Center; playing as part of the Traveling Wall of Vietnam Veterans; accompanying the Akron Symphony Orchestra at E.J. Thomas Hall and entertaining at the Ohio Mart at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.
So, what’s under a kilt?
George Donaldson said when his son, Kevin, was still living, a woman approached him and asked, “Can you tell me what’s worn under your kilt, son?’ ”
He looked her straight in the eye and said, “Ma’am, I’m only 18 years old — nothing is worn yet.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.