Three bagpipers from the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes & Drums join The Philadelphia Orchestra this week in performances of Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise.
In each of three performances, on January 18, 19, and 20, the musical story of a wedding on an island off the coast of Scotland ends with a single bagpiper joining the orchestra. The bagpipers are Police Officer Timothy Linahan, Kimmel Center Security Officer Gary Hughes, and Fire Department Paramedic Mark O’Donnell.
They are dedicating their performances to Philadelphia firefighter Lt. Matthew LeTourneau, who lost his life battling a fire in North Philadelphia with Engine 45 on January 6, 2018.
“He was a fantastic engine officer, a super guy, ” says O’Donnell, who is also the pipe major and music director of The Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums. Linehan is the band’s president; Hughes is a pipe corporal.
The main focus of the band, says O’Donnell, is to honor their fallen colleagues. “It’s a sad reality ... that there are a lot of fatalities among firefighters and police officers. We want to be there to provide the final honors to this officer or firefighter.”
Bagpipes were introduced to the police and firefighter culture in the mid 1800s. Waves of Irish and Scottish immigrants came to America and found that the most available jobs were in those fields. They brought with them their traditions, including the art of bagpipe playing, says O’Donnell.
The bagpipe tradition took root, and today the Philadelphia Police & Fire Pipe & Drums plays for uniformed officers of any faith or background.
“We just played a funeral for a Buddhist police officer…. Buddhist monks were there and I asked them, ‘What should we play?’ … In typical Buddhist fashion, he said, ‘Play what makes you happy.’ "
Members of the ensemble also play at celebrations, from graduations to baptisms and bar mitzvahs to weddings, like the one depicted in the piece performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra. In the Davies’ piece, a bagpiper enters with the sunrise after the musical depiction of a night of celebration.
It's so much fun playing with these guys. For a bagpiper to be included in mainstream music like this; we’re kind of the black sheep of the musical family,” O’Donnell says, laughing. “We love being included in this."