Originally created 11/27/05

Pipes work better than bells



ATHENS - Salvation Army volunteer Dan Wilson drew stares and pocketfuls of change Friday from Sam's Club shoppers who slowed down or paused to hear Christmas carols from the wheezy drone of his Scottish Highlands bagpipes.

Foregoing the traditional handbell, Mr. Wilson has been playing the bagpipes for the charity and raising money at about five times the clip of a typical holiday season bell-ringer.

Mr. Wilson began his Friday performance with a classic melody from the British Isles, fitting for the bagpipes and the holiday season: the Christmas carol What Child Is This? to the tune of Greensleeves.

Customers of all ages dug into their pockets, purses and billfolds to drop money into the red kettle and received a "Thank you, Merry Christmas" from Mr. Wilson.

He has been playing the bagpipes since 1989, when he and his wife visited Scotland and heard a parade of bagpipers leaving the castle in Edinburgh.

"The hair stood up on the back of my neck," he said. "I wondered what it would feel like to take part in something like that."

Mr. Wilson began playing for the Salvation Army three years ago almost as a joke after talking with his wife about doing something charitable for the holiday season, he said.

Mr. Wilson raises an average of $100 per hour for the Salvation Army, $80 more than the typical handbell ringer, said Garry Williams, the organization's kettle program coordinator.

"He's a very popular bell-ringer, to say the least," Mr. Williams said, adding that Mr. Wilson is the only bell-ringer who uses a special talent to raise money.

The organization used to have a band, and a coronet player occasional pitches in, but Mr. Wilson is the star of the kettle program, which raised about $49,000 last year.

The first time he played for the kettle program, a woman came up and wrote a check for $500, he said.

"That felt really good," he said.

Regular Sam's Club shoppers John and Sylvan Cown, of Watkinsville, watched as their daughter, Zoe, lifted her brother, Luke, 2, so he could drop money in the kettle.

Friday was the first time Zoe, 10, had seen bagpipes played in person, she said.

She always has associated bells and chimes with Christmas and bagpipes with Scotland, Zoe said, but she enjoyed Mr. Wilson's caroling style.

"I think it's pretty interesting and captures attention from people," she said.

Although the Highlands pipes are designed for outdoor use, they can't take too much of the cold weather, so Mr. Wilson performs only three times during the holiday season for about two hours, he said.

He will be in Watkinsville's parade Dec. 3 and will return to Sam's Club for a final one-man concert Dec. 10 from noon to 2 p.m.

Volunteers of any kind have been scarce this season, and Mr. Williams said he encourages anyone with musical talent to play carols for the kettle program.