Joint Base Charleston


SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic employees share musical gift

By Alex Jackson | SSC Atlantic Public Affairs | April 13, 2011

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- From miles away, melodic drones can be heard coming closer, grabbing your attention and signifying an important event.

That's the sound of the legendary bagpipes. These instruments are often paraded through the streets during New Year's celebrations and other grand affairs.
Dating back to the 15th century, bagpipes were created as a war instrument to warn soldiers when the enemy was near. The unmistakable sounds of the pipes are often accompanied with drums during ceremonial events including graduations and funerals.

A few employees of SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic are members of an elite group performing this special music. John Guerry and John Weed, both of Netcentric Engineering and Integration, and Tim French of the Integrated Logistics Support competency, play the pipes and drums for special occasions including 9/11 observances and retirement ceremonies at SSC Atlantic in Charleston.

Mr. Guerry, an electronics engineer, plays the snare drum for the group.

"I've been playing drums for about 18 years," said Mr. Guerry.

He picked up his first set of drumsticks as a member of a concert band and has also been part of various marching bands including The Citadel Pipes and Drums Band as a cadet in the Military College of South Carolina.

"I enjoyed Scottish drumming and have been playing ever since," he said.

Mr. French, the outbound shipping supervisor, has been playing the bagpipes since high school. Being of Scottish descent, Mr. French grew up listening to Scottish music. His parents wanted him to become well-rounded so in addition to playing sports, he learned how to play the bagpipes. He had the opportunity to master his skills under the instruction of the former Pipe Sergeant of the Air Force Pipe Band, Donald Lindsey. Mr. French is a graduate of the Citadel and played in the pipes band too.

Mr. Weed is a native Charlestonian and remembers going to the Citadel football games as a child. "It was the biggest football team in town and my dad would take my brothers and me to the games," said Mr. Weed, chief architect for Coast Guard Deep Water Platforms C4ISR.

He was fascinated with the bagpipes when he heard them being played at the games. Ever since, Mr. Weed knew he loved the instrument and hoped someday he would have a chance to play the bagpipes. His dream became a reality nearly five years ago when he was introduced to the Charleston Police Pipes and Drums band.

Bagpipes, also known as aerophones, require a constant supply of air to produce a sound. By blowing air through the blowpipe into the reservoir, the piper can squeeze the reservoir under his arm which produces the sound of the instrument.

"Since the drones play the same note all the time," Mr. Weed said, "musicians add embellishments to the songs by playing the melody on a pipe called the chanter."

The chanter is bored with holes which produces different notes when certain holes are covered. Pipers learn similar finger dexterity as those who play the flute or piccolo.

The SSC Atlantic bagpipes band trio is part of Charleston's Scottish marching band associated with the Charleston Police Department. The 45-member group is made up of police officers and volunteers who perform in many events along the eastern shores of the United States and Canada. The band has been in existence for nearly 15 years and is a member of Southern Branch of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association.

The band's musical repertoire includes jigs, reels and dance tunes.

"My favorite music to play on the bagpipes is marches and hymns," Mr. Weed said. "There is something special about marching on the field with other pipers and drummers. It really makes you feel like you're going to mini war," Mr. Weed added.

In addition to performing in parades and other community events such as the Highland Games, the band has won numerous awards in competitions around the country. The Charleston band has won championships for the Southern Branch of the EUSPBA for the past two years.

Even though playing pipes and drums requires a lot of dedication, the band members enjoy spending time with each other. Mr. Guerry said he enjoys the camaraderie of being with the band mates. As lead drummer, Mr. Guerry arranges and composes all the drum scores for the band.

"I get to put my own creativity into it," Mr. Guerry said.

The passion for bagpipe music is growing and people are continuing to write music for the instrument. Mr. French is passing on his love for Scottish music to the next generation and his two oldest sons are pipers and graduates of the Citadel, while his youngest son is a pipe band snare drummer, he said.

Staying Connected