AIKEN — George Grinton wiped his brow Friday as he stepped out of a retired officer’s funeral wearing a kilt and toting bagpipes.
It was the second commitment the 12-man Aiken Sheriff’s Pipes and Drums band had that day.
“It’s just physically demanding,” Grinton said of the instrument known for requiring a lot of stamina.
He is one of 12 members of the band. As one of few bagpiper bands in the state, it can be in high demand at times.
On Friday, available band members split their time between playing at the Aiken paupers funeral and retired Aiken Public Safety Cpl. Sonny Ford’s funeral at Millbrook Baptist Church.
“It provides solace for family and friends,” Grinton said. “There’s just something about a bagpipe that brings comfort and talks to the
heart during a service or celebration.”
In addition to funerals for law enforcement, the band is called to perform at civilian funerals, celebrations and parades.
It has eight pipers, three drummers and one pipe major. Many of the members are in law enforcement. There are also a few outside of the profession, and two, including Grinton, are members of the Augusta Highlanders club.
The band got its start in 2006 after Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Bobby Wilson ran into difficulty finding a bagpiper to play at Sgt. Jason Sheppard’s funeral. The person who eventually played urged Wilson to pick up beginner pipes and learn to play.
With some basic instructions and no musical experience, Wilson taught himself to play and started the band.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said.
It’s a sentiment felt by members, most of whom are self-taught.
“I just pump up that bag and play those notes,” Doug Cassidy said. “I do the best I can with it.”
Cassidy, a dog trainer for the sheriff’s office, learned to play while living in Long Island, N.Y., after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. An increase in bagpiper memorials drew him to the instrument. He had no previous musical experience.
Wilson said the band has improved immensely since it began. The band practices every Saturday at a member’s home in a “bagpiper friendly” neighborhood.
“The neighbors actually love it,” Wilson said. “They’ll stop in the driveway
and clap. It’s really funny because during parade season we’ll get out and march and play. The neighbors come out and give us apples and stuff.”
The band continues to seek new bagpipers and drummers with experience or just a willingness to learn.