Why officers should join police pipes and drums
Not only does playing the bagpipes relieve stress, it can also bring a much needed sense of purpose
The events of the past two years have been unprecedented in police work; 2020 was a chaotic year and 2021 saw some states passing catastrophic legislation curtailing the ability of law enforcement to protect their communities. Many officers became disillusioned, and I’m convinced every officer with more than a handful of years in my state at least pondered what they might do outside of their current profession.
Elevated job stress
To deal with the elevated job stress, I suggest talking through frustrations with peer support, eating healthy and exercising, and engaging in fulfilling activities – specifically bagpiping or drumming.
Is that suggestion out of left field? Maybe, but stay with me.
Most people in law enforcement entered the field wanting to physically protect, to serve an important role, or at least follow some vague sense of wanting to help others. In a single word – purpose. Now think of the dramatic weight a pipes and drums band brings to a law enforcement funeral. Whether you have attended one or many, or perhaps you have only seen video clips, you will recognize that few things can draw the cathartic release that follows the distinctive skirl of bagpipes and accompanying drums at such an event. That release is important. Funerals are not only to honor the dead but to help the living deal with tragic and untimely loss.
Like others, I found myself over the past two years struggling to find purpose in my career. For the reasons mentioned above, work satisfaction had dropped to a new low. I began searching for something to devote my energy to and thought of the bagpipes I inherited a couple of years before that were languishing in a garage. On a whim, I looked up Seattle Police Pipes and Drums and reached out to them. Soon after, I was attending my first practice.
I could not be happier with the decision.
Not every group of police officers is welcoming, generous, or positive – this one was all three. They patiently answered all my questions and put me in front of an experienced teacher who was willing to suffer through my early squeaks and squawks.
National Police Week
They were so welcoming, they even asked if I wanted to tag along on a trip to Washington, D.C. for National Police Week. I had been playing for nearly a year at that point but had not progressed far enough for the audition that, if passed, would award me a kilted uniform and the ability to play shows with the group. I jumped at the opportunity. I had talked about attending Police Week for well over a decade, but like so many ideas, it had never come to fruition. I would travel with the group, offer whatever logistical support I could, and take some photographs along the way. Their day to perform came on a warm Thursday afternoon.
When the band approached the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., all heads turned their way. They marched in navy blue kilts with bagpipes and drums at the ready. Cell phones started recording and the family of fallen Seattle Police Department Officer Alexandra “Lexi” Harris braced for the performance dedicated to her memory. The band struck in with unified precision and gave a heart-wrenching rendition of three tunes before marching out. A tearful family member approached the band afterward and thanked them for their performance.
Since then, I passed my audition and received my uniform. I figured out to tie my ghillie brogues, tilt my caubeen hat, and arrange my sporran. I played my first gig with the band at a 9/11 memorial ceremony in the little town of Cashmere, Washington. I pushed through the expected flutters of nerves and struck in with my bandmates. As part of the proceedings, we played three sets consisting of a total of six tunes for a receptive audience, finishing as expected with "Amazing Grace." It was a gratifying experience and as I had hoped, it renewed that part of me that had been yearning for purpose.
Don't let inexperience stop you
When I am chatting with officers about joining the band, I often hear concerns about perceived musical “talent.” I usually ask how much practice they have at music. Uniformly, they tell me they have little to none. If you have any interest in playing an instrument, don’t let your current skill level decide if you will try your hand at it – apply a growth mindset and trust that focused practice will lead to results. Every musician has a first instrument, and many members of pipe and drum bands had no prior experience with an instrument when they started.
Not every city or region has a pipes and drums band, and it’s not the only option. I heard a masterful rendition of "Taps" at the 9/11 event that was every bit as emotive as any pipe and drum performance. If you do have any interest, I recommend seeking out any band within driving distance and finding out if it is right for you.