The Sound of Music - Bagpiper joins St. Patrick’s Day parade

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

 

The latest addition to Elkader’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is sure to hit all the right notes with spectators. Ron Husted, a musician from Newton who’s been playing bagpipes for almost 40 years, will perform as he walks the parade route—as long as the weather cooperates.

“The dense African blackwood the pipes are made of can crack in the cold and also, in cold temps the pipes go out of tune quickly and sound really bad,” Husted explained. “I’m hoping for decent weather.”

Elkader’s 25th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration will be Friday, March 17. Activities for kids begin at 3 p.m. at the Elkader Public Library (See related article on page 2.) The parade starts at 5:15 and afterwards, Father Peters will play at Johnson’s where a folk singer from Waukon and possibly Husted will perform, as well.

Parade organizer Jean Marie Hall has long felt that a bagpiper would be a good addition to the parade. This year, she was able to find not only a piper but also a sponsor. Leonard-Grau Funeral Home, Elkader, is sponsoring Husted’s appearance.

Husted was introduced to piping when he was a “wee lad.” He heard a performance by piper Al Bell, who played the bagpipes and wore a kilt.

“From that moment on I knew that one day I would play the bagpipes,” Husted said, who is of Scottish descent.

A few years later, he crossed paths with a man named Tom Coulsen, a World War II piper who served with the Essex Scottish of Canada. He was Husted’s first teacher.

“A piper’s training typically begins by using an instrument called a practice chanter,” Husted explained. “It’s played while sitting at a table or a desk.”

After six to eight months, students graduate to an actual bagpipe, learning how to coordinate blowing and squeezing the bag while maintaining a steady tone.

“I practice a bit with the practice chanter every day or two, and play the pipes at band practices once a week along with funerals and weddings,” Husted said.

Husted plays no other instruments though he tried the trombone and piano when he was much younger. His Scottish aunt played the fiddle, harmonica and accordion but none of those instrumented clicked with him. 

Husted and his wife, Pam, have four adult children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. One son and a granddaughter have musical inclinations. The couple’s son works as a DJ and their granddaughter is learning piano.

Piping has become more than a hobby for Husted—it’s also his vocation. Six years ago, he started a retail company that provides bagpipe supplies across the U.S. He’s seen an uptick in the popularity of piping especially on the East Coast where fire and police departments generally have a piper or two on their forces.

“During the early part of the last century, Irish immigrants were sorely discriminated against for jobs and could only land those that were dangerous and life-threatening like police and fire service,” said Husted, explaining the popularity of piping in the eastern U.S. “When there were deaths, they used their native instruments at funerals. It just carried forward from there.”

Husted’s been working on song selections for Elkader’s parade. Some of his choices are “Kelley, the Boy from Killane,” “Rowan Tree,” “Wearing of the Green,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and the most-often requested tune, “Amazing Grace.”

Piping has given Husted many incredible memories, none more poignant that a 2007 “welcome home” ceremony.

“It was when Iowa’s 133rd Infantry returned from a record-setting two years of active deployment in Iraq,” he explained. “Iowa soldiers, all 640 of them, lined up behind the bagpipers who escorted them to the return ceremony and reunited them with their loved ones.” The moment was featured on a 60 Minutes documentary called Fathers, Sons & Brothers.”

Husted is hoping to make lasting memories here, as well.

“I’m very much looking forward to your St. Paddy’s Day celebration,” he said. “I’ve never been to Elkader but have been hearing from others how beautiful it is.”

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