The famous British surgeon, scientist and politician Lord Robert Winston said these words: “Man is a competitive creature, and the seeds of conflict are built deep into our genes. We fought each other on the savannah and only survived against great odds by organizing ourselves into groups which would have had a common purpose, giving morale and fortitude.”
And so almost eight years ago, the first members of the Wake & District Public Safety Pipes and Drums organized themselves into a group which would have a common purpose. It is a purpose that is among the most noble and fulfilling of purposes; and by honoring this singular purpose, of honoring our fallen, we have ourselves been carried upon a rising tide that, unlike our ocean’s tides, could not have been predicted. It is a tide that continues to rise and carry us to ever expanding horizons, where we continued throughout 2013 to form new alliances and make new friends. It is a purpose that continues to fill all of us with morale and fortitude.
In the last year, Wake and District was of service to many of our old friends. We provided the backdrop for graduating North Carolina State Troopers and City of Raleigh Firefighters; for Wake County Sheriff Deputies and for incoming Raleigh City Council members. We played for our brothers in blue during the Run for Our Heroes event in Raleigh. Our friends in the NC chapter of the USO invited us once again to several events, including their annual black tie Gala. While we have always held close our brothers and sisters in the military, we expanded our family this past year, by playing the Spring Ball of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, as well as our traditional participation in Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day parades and activities. New friends were also made in Operation Coming Home as we helped welcome a deserving wounded veteran and his family into “Hero Home Six”.
We continued to foster our growing relationships with friends like Campbell University by providing pomp and circumstance for new graduates. Another new acquaintance and fast fan of our group is Raleigh’s own mayor, Nancy McFarlane, who asked for the pipes and drums during several of her local appearances. We celebrated our nation’s Independence under our state’s magnificent Capitol dome as the pipes and drums lit up the square for the 4th of July.
And of course, we were once again honored and humbled to play our signature event, which was the celebration in remembrance of North Carolina’s Fallen Firefighters. It is our band’s centerpiece; the event that brought together the people and events that would lead to the reason we are all together today.
We tend not to dwell very long on the fact that what we do has strong ties with death and mourning. We would be remiss, however, to not take a moment and remember the fallen of the last year. From the wildland firefighters of Prescott, Arizona, to the Garda Police in Europe, men and women; our brothers and sisters, paid the ultimate price in service to others. Many were our friends, from as near as Fayetteville Fire Department, New Hanover County Fire and Rescue, Asheville Police, and Brassfield Fire Department. The members of our Armed Forces lost in battle also will not be forgotten as they gave the last great measure of devotion for their country. Then there was the loss of a great friend of the band and to the piping world; a friend that is directly responsible for our band’s existence, all because he saw promise in a young boy from Chicago many years ago, who wanted to learn the bagpipes. We will miss you David McKee Sr. and we are better for having known you, if only for a short while.
Luckily for us, we play as hard as we work. This past year we played in pubs and other locales across the southeast, opening for bands like My Three Kilts, Albanach and the Battlefield Band. We kept tradition alive, through celebrations like Burns Night, and through competing in the Southern branch of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, where we tasted success in both our Grade 4 and Grade 5 bands, along with individuals gaining accolades in solo competition. During St. Patrick’s Day weekend, we made no less than 9 appearances across two states and managed to squeeze in an impromptu gig at a wedding reception, much to the surprise of the wedding party. We even attempted to help set a world record. Although we came very close, we will have to redeem ourselves this year as the “kilted shenanigans” continue.
One of our proudest moments this year was in service to someone we have come to love dearly, as we helped our band mother, Annie Nice, reclaim her personal possessions from years spent in a storage unit in Europe and bring them back home to North Carolina, this time to stay. Without the love of Annie and our family at Tir Na nOg, we would be in a far different place. We thank them so much for allowing us to hold our fundraiser there this year, which was a rousing success.
As is often the case with groups, there have been comings and goings. Over the last year we have had members step back for the good of the band. We have had some retire from the band and we will miss them. At the same time, we have welcomed new, young people into the band, who have taken up the mantle of commitment and honor that is required of a good band member. We have gained strong leadership, which pushes us farther as we strive to improve. 2013 was the “year of the clinic”, as we learned from some of the industry’s best and brightest players and composers, and we are all the better for it.
During the past year of events and performances, it often happened so fast that we hardly realized just how quickly it all took place. Before we knew it, another year had flown by. We have all learned so much in the past year; about our music, our mission, and ourselves. Our band has been forged in the fires of determination, commitment and honor. We will continue our journey on the rising tide, and we will see the sun rise and set on many tides to come; and we hope you will all be there to share in it.
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