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Random acts of bagpipes

7/1/2020

Dawn Baldwin practices at Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines. The audiologist and musician used to play other instruments, but she picked up the bagpipes to the delight of her neighbors.

“Someone on our street…has been playing the bagpipes lately, and I love it!” writes one northwest Des Moines neighbor on an online community forum.

“…I heard her practicing, (too)…” types another interested ear in the area.

“I’m not sure who it is,” responds a third, “but it’s greatly appreciated!! Very cool.”

Other neighbors also added comments and accolades, each wondering how to best witness the intriguing tunes, until finally…

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“I am the bagpiper,” Dawn Baldwin writes. “I’m glad you enjoy it (the music)!”

Four years ago, Baldwin listened as her husband lamented that his band needed a bagpipe player but couldn’t find one.

“Maybe I could learn the bagpipes and help him,” she remembers thinking. “How hard can it be?”

Baldwin must have vocalized those internal thoughts, because a few days later, a new instrument arrived in the mail — one that was quite unlike any other she had previously played. She now owned a set of practice pipes. But it wasn’t love at first bagpipe. Learning the new skill was difficult at first.

“I actually thought I shouldn’t be doing this,” she remembers.

Playing the pipes requires a unique ability. The woodwind instrument is equipped with a bag to supply an enclosed reed with a constant reservoir of air.

“It’s like having a third lung,” she says. “Plus, there are only nine notes, but you can’t play the same note back to back, and the music must be played from memory.”

Despite these few obstacles and some early troubles, Baldwin attended an international bagpipe conference in Kansas City. While there, as luck would have it, she won a brand new set of pipes in a raffle. Now there would be no turning back, and she is glad for that.

After four years, Baldwin has a good handle on the instrument.

“Once you get the gist of it, it is pretty easy,” she explains.

She currently plays with Mackenzie Highlanders Pipes and Drums, with a mission to support active and reserve military units, law enforcement agencies and fire departments. The group regularly performs in a variety of patriotic observances, commemorative ceremonies and funerals, particularly for first responders.

The pipes are a loud instrument, which means Baldwin often goes outside to practice.

“People say they are the only instrument that can probably wake the dead,” she says.

Be that as it may, Baldwin frequently plays at Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines, which is where she caught the attention of her neighbors.
“I am just glad people are enjoying the bagpipes,” says Baldwin. ♦

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