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Bagpiping to thank frontline heroes is nightly tradition for local student

May 28, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Roán Binnendyk was set for the trip of a lifetime last week.

A member of the St. Andrew’s College Pipes and Drums corps, the Grade 9 student had been practicing diligently to ensure he was pitch perfect ahead of performing overseas along with his fellow corps members for the King and Queen of the Netherlands to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Liberation of Holland.

But, due to the present global emergency, instead of performing for Canadian heroes who were also set to make the trip, he stood alone on his Gurnett Street porch, bagpipes primed, paying tribute to another group of heroes: the doctors, nurses and other essential workers fighting on the frontlines to keep us safe and healthy against COVID-19.

And he has been doing so since the early days of the pandemic.

In mid-March, inspired by individuals in Vancouver who come out of their houses each evening to clap and bang pots and pans to thank frontline healthcare workers as they change shifts, Roán decided to use his time and talent for a unique spin on the new tradition for heroes close to home.

“They were banging pots outside, sometimes playing musical instruments, just trying to connect with the community so [frontline workers] know everyone is still there,” he said on Wednesday evening as neighbours came out onto their front lawns and porches for the evening performance – another new tradition. “I think the bagpipes are a strong instrument that might inspire people more than most. I think this has been a really great experience where I have helped other people maybe more than I can understand. Through music, I can bring people together in a darker time.”

Roán first developed his interest in the bagpipes when he enrolled at SAC. He has been piping for just over five years and has been a dedicated member of the Pipes & Drums Corps for nearly two-and-a-half.

Inspired by how his nightly performances have resonated with his immediate community, Roán plans on taking the show on the road and is arranging to play the bagpipes outside of a several local seniors’ residences in the coming weeks, including Chartwell Aurora (formerly Resthaven), which continues to grapple with an outbreak of the virus.

“This makes me so proud,” said Roán’s mother Susan. “There are people who are on the frontlines fighting every day to save people’s lives and this is the least Roán can do. I wish personally I could do something, but, unfortunately, I am a vulnerable person so we don’t even go grocery shopping. I am just really, really proud Roán doesn’t even question going out here to play and the response from our neighbours has been fantastic.”

One such response came from a neighbour from across nearby Rotary Park.

Steve Falk, a musician with the local band Soul Benefit, first heard the pipes from a distance soon after Roán began playing each evening.

“Once you’ve heard the bagpipes at sunset, you know you have to respond across that big, empty park,” said Mr. Falk at the time, noting he responded to the call himself with a few notes on his trumpet. “We are not sure who is playing the bagpipes, but it feels like a call for a conversation. It’s like someone saying ‘Goodnight.’ You just have to reply, ‘You too.’”

Eventually, Steve was able to find the source of this evocative “goodnight” and was recently able to join in on a much closer – and still physically distanced – jam session.

“My mother is Scottish and I love the bagpipes, but I think with the response he has had I will always remember fondly this time for Roán,” adds Susan.

As for Roán, he intends to keep the tradition going for the foreseeable future and hopes more local musicians, young and old, can join in – in their own spaces, in their own way.

“It helps more than you might think,” he says. “People come out and give you great feedback and that makes you feel good. It’s also a good way to practice and get outside. It’s great to get out and see people interact.”

By Brock Weir



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