IN RECENT YEARS, pipe and drum bands from New York, the midwest, central Georgia and Charleston have regularly marched in the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade.
This year, for the first time, a band from Savannah will join their ranks.
The Savannah Pipe and Drum Corps was formed in April 2007 by musicians who believed support existed for a local band, according to Don Sullens, president of the group’s executive board. Sullens, longtime local piper Dave Crampton and bagpipe aficionado Jim Byous pulled together the fledgling group, now grown to 27 members.
The organization includes 15 performers (pipers and drummers) and 12 others, either pipe students, drumming students, or non-playing pipe enthusiasts.
The band’s first public performance was in Savannah’s 2007 Veterans Day parade. Since then they’ve made a half-dozen additional appearances, including the service held on February 23 to honor the Imperial Sugar explosion victims and rescue workers.
“It was really moving to the audience and to the band. The pipers played ‘Amazing Grace,’” says Sullens. “Part of the reason we formed the group is as a civic organization. We want to give back to the community, not just enjoy the pipe music but to be able to provide honors to those in public safety and security, to give back to them.”
The Savannah Pipe and Drum Corps isn’t an Irish-only group. “We’ve tried to incorporate the original seven Celtic nations,” says Sullens. “We’re the community band, not just Irish, not just Scots. Nobody can own us, but everybody can claim us.”
The nonprofit organization is primarily funded through member contributions. “We’ve had a couple of organizations donate some money to us which has helped out.”
“I heard them play at the Savannah Irish Festival. We had them come to one of our parade committee quarterly meetings,” says John P. Forbes, General Chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. “For a first year band, they are really good.”
Unlike some of the out-of-state bands that consist mostly of firefighters or law enforcement staff, the Savannah Pipe and Drum Corps draws its members from a wide range of occupations. “We have students, teachers, police officers, postal workers, historians, engineers, business owners, and artists,” says Sullens. Although a mostly-male group, two of the pipers are women. The musicians’ ages range from “folks who can’t drive yet up to mid-60’s.”
In addition to serving as president, Sullens is the group’s bass drummer. The former woodwinds player has been taking pipe lessons for 14 months. “Hopefully we’ll get a bass drummer and I can retire soon and spend more time on the pipes. Someone has to keep a consistent beat because he has to keep everybody together. There’s an old saying that even when the bass drummer is wrong, he’s right.”
In addition to regular rehearsals, the pipe and drum corps was scheduled for performances at Tara Feis, on WTOC’s “Mid Morning Live” show, at the Tybee Island parade and at the Celtic Cross ceremony, plus the Savannah parade on March 14.
Despite the busy spring schedule, the band is focusing on the spirit of fun that draws them together.
Says Sullens: “We’re working hard at it, we take it seriously, but at the end of the day we want to sit down together and socialize. We have such an eclectic collection of people that it’s real interesting to just sit down and talk.”