EXCHANGE-PIPERS PIPING

Damon McParland gets assistance from his son, Aidan McParland (right), in tuning his bagpipes prior to a performance for United We Pipe during a birthday party May 30 in a neighborhood on South Lincoln Avenue, in Springfield, Ill. The duo formed United We Pipe as a way of raising money through neighborhood concerts held following social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic with the proceeds going to the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Greater Capital Region of Illinois.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.

When Damon McParland pulled up in his van in a west-side neighborhood, little did his son, Aidan, know he had a little surprise waiting for him.

For the last three weeks or so, the father-son bagpipe tandem have been traversing the city playing little community get togethers for birthdays and last-day-of-school events as part of UnitedWePipe.

The May 29 gig brought together four friends who met at Lincoln Magnet School — Alex Remolina, Jack McLaughlin, Joe Tisckos and McParland — for Remolina’s graduation party.

“When I saw this advertised, I thought what an awesome way to celebrate their high school graduation considering the unique circumstances with COVID-19,” said Melissa Remolina, Alex’s mother.

UnitedWePipe has raised nearly $3,000 so far for the COVID-19 Response Fund, a joint effort between the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and United Way of Central Illinois.

Damon McParland, a Chinese language teacher at Iles School, said the idea of UnitedWePipe formulated after the two bagpipers were silenced around St. Patrick’s Day events, normally a busy time for pipers. The city’s annual parade was canceled because of health concerns for large gatherings, so Aidan McParland, 18, had the idea of going on the family’s front porch and playing a few tunes for neighbors.

“That went over really well. The neighbors really appreciated that,” Damon McParland said. “We did a few more like that, for friends who couldn’t leave their houses for various reasons.”

It eventually led to the two teaming with the COVID-19 Response Fund. While the duo only charges $25 per gig, it solicits funds — there’s a bagpipe case open with a sign reading “Pay the Piper” — at each gathering.

“It’s out of the ordinary for a lot of people,” admitted Aidan McParland, who graduated from Springfield High School. “They probably only ever heard bagpipes at St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s a new experience for them. With the quarantine, where every day runs into the next one, it’s something to break up the pattern.

“A lot of them are curious how the bagpipes work. They’ll ask about that afterwards. It’s something pretty unique and fun to share with people.”

UnitedWePipe doesn’t offer up a staid show. The two interject movie themes, like “Star Wars” and even re-enact the “piper down” scene from the movie “So I Married An Axe Murderer.”

One of the show’s highlights is Aidan playing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

“I saw a YouTube of this 16-year-old playing and I was like, ‘Yeah, I could probably do that,’ ” Aidan McParland said. “He posted the arrangement online, so I just downloaded that and played it a bunch at home and started building up the speed and then slowly I sort of got there. He plays it a lot better and a lot faster.”

“But Aidan’s catching up,” Damon McParland added.

McParland’s daughter, Emma, has been dancing for the local St. Andrew’s Society since she was 5 years old. A recent graduate of Michigan State University, she has joined UnitedWePipe for several shows.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Emma McParland, 22, who starts graduate school at Oakland University.

It was a trip to Scotland several years with the St. Andrew’s Society that stoked Aidan McParland’s interest in the bagpipes. He was just 13 at the time, so his father had to drive him to lessons with Tom Ogilvy.

“Tom Ogily is one of the best bagpipers you’re going to find in America,” Damon McParland said. “Since I was sitting there, I thought I would learn alongside (Aidan).”

The two encourage social distancing at their get-togethers, which will last through at least July. Aidan McParland will continue his studies at the University of Oregon in the fall.

“This is one thing we can use to help people around us and bring a sense of community because regardless of where you are, if we’re playing at one house, you can hear it all the way down the block,” Aidan McParland said. “It was the best way I could think of to make a difference in our community.”

Added Melissa Remolina:

“It’s a different category of unique music. They did such an incredible job and the way that Aidan blends in rock music, that’s just cool.”

“Any other instrument, I don’t think it would work,” Damon McParland added. “The bagpipe really comes from the soul.”

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