Every year, I am asked to provide a “year in review” — looking back on the past 12 months of accomplishments and experiences of this very special group. This year I sat in front of my notebook, thinking of words that describe our band. Several came to mind rather quickly. Strength. Resiliency. Concentration. Fun. Honor. Some other words, just as important, took more effort to bring into clarity. Sacrifice. Dedication. Focus. Spirited. Limitlessness. Hope. Brotherhood.
All of these words only begin to define Wake & District. To understand truly what we are about, you need to encounter it. For many of our members and fans as well, the experience has been transformative. I personally have witnessed the spark in the eyes of a new member that feels the emotion of brotherhood and the band mission for the first time. It brings a smile to my face even now. To see the moment when they realize this feeling is something that was missing in their lives and has been newly discovered; when they next realize they will never be without that feeling again…it is quite a moment.
It is a contagion that travels through word of mouth, enticing people from near and far to come and see; to be party to what they have been hearing about; to see if it is indeed true. Oftentimes, this means the addition of another member. We have experienced this quite a few times over the past year. Our group is over 70 members strong. Finding this many people who embody the words in the opening paragraph is extremely difficult. We are fortunate to be able to say they have found us, and we have taken them to task.
One of the earliest tests of our members for 2014 came in March, as heavy demands were placed on the band during the festivities surrounding St. Patrick. After several years of spending the day marching in parades in other locales, Wake & District came home this year, marching proudly for our home town fans in Raleigh’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, followed by a myriad of events throughout the city and beyond. How far beyond? In the case of our pipe major, all the way to Quebec City, Canada! Some have dubbed this trial, “The Crucible”. It is indeed a challenge; a most welcome challenge. Fun doesn’t begin to describe it.
Good times are often the centerpiece of events we are asked to participate in. During 2014, these were occasions like providing the opening act for the internationally acclaimed Chieftains and the Makem & Spain Brothers from Ireland, and our friends making up the band known as My 3 Kilts. We were honored to participate in massed bands performances for both the Men’s and Women’s 2014 U.S. Open golf tournaments in the picturesque village of Pinehurst. We formed new friendships with companies like Ranger Up Military and MMA Apparel.
While having fun is a luxury we often get to enjoy, Wake & District is a Public Safety pipe band, and this means service above all. We exist to serve. 2014 was no exception. We provided distinguished service to many organizations, including the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Durham Highway Fire Department in Wake County, the Raleigh Veterans Day parade, the 3rd Annual Wives Behind the Badge Gala, and the Carolina Brotherhood, a dedicated group of cyclist\firefighters who pedal across the Carolinas, from Raleigh to Charleston, in support of the brotherhood forged in fire.
Our spirit of service continues to manifest itself through events played for some of our bedrock organizations, those groups who have been there for us since the very beginning, many times providing much needed financial support, as well as a kind word of encouragement and thanks. Events like the promotional ceremonies and the graduation of Recruit Academy 39, of the City of Raleigh Fire Department. It was an honor to help our brothers and sisters in the Raleigh Police Department dedicate their new City of Raleigh Police Memorial, honoring the eight officers who gave their last full measure of devotion to the city they loved.
We owe so much to our family in grey, the NC State Highway Patrol. They provide us with our home for rehearsals and clinics. We proudly honored them in 2014 through performances at promotional ceremonies, as well as the graduations of Basic Patrol Schools 134 and 135.
We cannot properly express our humility, gratitude and love for our brothers and sisters in grey. They are truly a part of our band family.
One of the highlights of our year was when we received the invitation from our Highway Patrol family to attend their annual awards ceremony, not to perform, but to be honored. The Highway Patrol recognized our group, bestowing the Colonel’s Appreciation Award in thanks for all we have done for them.
In 2014, as in every year of our existence, we paid tribute to our community’s bravest, by performing in the parade and ceremonies of the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in Raleigh, where 11 names were added to the wall of the fallen. Joined this year by pipers and drummers from Asheville, Charlotte and Cary Fire Departments, we were able to deliver a strong presence and a heartfelt performance at this, the birth place of Wake and District. This spirit of honoring our fallen continued into the year, when three of our band members – all firefighters – traveled to Maryland to participate in the honor guard services for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
As a further continuation of our commitment to our mission statement, we dispatched individual members and mini bands across the state and beyond throughout the past year, to pay tribute as law enforcement officers and firefighters gave the ultimate sacrifice, in service to the public they so faithfully served. We all leave a piece of ourselves with our brothers when we pipe them home.
2014 was a year of unprecedented growth for the organization, as the members of Wake & District renewed their efforts to improve themselves and the group through increased levels of competition in the Southern Branch of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. We had enough interest to provide bands in Grades 4 and 5 on the competition field at highland games across the southeast, including Loch Norman, Greenville SC, Charleston SC, Stone Mountain GA, Laurinburg NC and Richmond VA. Several of our members competed at the solo level and garnered several awards for their efforts.We are proud to call them members of Wake & District and applaud them for all their hard work.
The coming year will see Wake & District increase its presence, with the addition of a Grade 3 competition band (standing alongside our G4 and G5 groups), as well as the creation of a juvenile program, a labor of love created by our pipe major, Joseph Brady, which has been christened The Crossroads Kilty Band. The band continues to catch the eye of adjudicators and fans alike as we perform among the highest levels of pipe band competition in the country.
One of our old friends has gone to unprecedented lengths to help us continue in our quest for better sound. Roddy MacLellan, master pipe maker and owner of MacLellan Bagpipe Company, recently granted some of our advanced players exclusive access to his facility in an effort to create an instrument customized to our band’s needs. The trip was wonderful, and the results of many hours of patient and tedious work on Roddy’s part are showing promise for the future. We thank Roddy and his family for their support and encouragement as the band strives to find its own clear, distinctive sound.
We have fostered many endearing relationships with fellow pipe bands and individual players on the competition trail, and look forward to a new year of spirited rivalry, and of friendships renewed.
One of the greatest joys we experience as a band is playing for our fans. We love seeing familiar faces, who go to the trouble of seeking out our performances. We love seeing new faces, that light up when a wall of sound envelopes them for the first time. The Wake & District family wishes to thank all of you for your continued support of what we do.
The members of Wake & District wish to thank our family members, who allow us to make sacrifices of our time in order to take part in this group. For all of us, this has become a family affair. Without your patience, approval and love, we simply would not be. Thank you.
From the very beginning of this journey, every member has been told this will not be easy. In fact, it will oftentimes be quite difficult. Your patience will be tested. It will place a constant demand on your time, your finances, and your attention. You will give everything you have and it still may not be enough. You may find in the end, it just isn’t for you. But oh, my friend, what a journey it will be. Those of us who find this to be a calling have had new doors opened to us from every direction. In my own experience, I have been places I never had before. I have made lasting friendships with people I would never have met through any other aspect of my life. It has brought a true enrichment to life. It is our hope that these feelings are made evident to all of you, our fans, every time we perform. Music is the stuff of life; an escape from reality; a refuge for the mind. It is memories and experiences made into sound. Please come and share some time with us when you can. We promise you a smile and a fulfillment that only the sound of the pipes and drums can bring. See you then.
– Lloyd Johnson
Lloyd Johnson is a Captain with the City of Raleigh Fire Department and a founding member (bagpiper) of the Wake and District Public Safety Pipes and Drums. His daughter, Jessica is also a member of the band as a tenor drummer.
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