The Pipes and Drums of the Atlantic Watch are in a Busy Parade Season
By John Burton
RED BANK – This is a particularly hectic time of the year for the Pipes and Drums of the Atlantic Watch – but then, the group is on the move all year round.
“We’re the busy band,” said Linda Cooper, who plays tenor drums and serves as the band agent.
The Atlantic Watch has been booked for five parades this month, including the Rumson parade on Sunday, March 9. They have already performed in Belmar’s event and are slated for parades in Union and Ocean counties and the Sunday, March 23, Highlands celebration of the wearin’ of the green.
In addition, members individually don their kilts and take up the bagpipes and drums for any number of appearances, including weddings and funerals, parties and at various local watering holes where they perform selections for appreciative audiences, said Cooper and Jim Whyte, the band’s pipe major.
Last year was equally busy with 31 appearances as a band, including charitable events, fundraising golf outings, the 9/11 memorial service at Mount Mitchill in Atlantic Highlands. Band members marched a total of 26 miles at parades and events during 2013.
Sometimes, it’s not always in the nicest weather for a march. While Whyte acknowledges that knees exposed below a kilt’s hem can get chilly, Cooper concedes to occasionally wearing skier tights under her kilt. It’s a fashion choice, she holds – with a smile – that is her prerogative as a female member of the band.
There is no keeping them away from the sounds they – and those who come to the parades and events – hear and love.
“I think the pipes and drums strike a visceral cord in most people,” Whyte said. “It stirs the blood. It hits you on some unconscious level.”
They certainly do for him.
The Red Bank-based band was established a little more than 20 years ago and was intended to promote the traditional Scottish Highland art of piping and drumming, Whyte said.
He joined about 18 years ago, making him currently the longest serving member among the group’s approximately 50 members. Initially, Whyte, a Red Bank resident, and his wife Patty, heard the Atlantic Watch perform at Trinity Episcopal Church in Red Bank during a First Night celebration one New Year’s Eve. Patty Whyte told him he should try it and he did.
“I showed up and started to learn” and has been involved ever since, he said.
“People are very welcoming and friendly,” within the group, Whyte discovered. They were willing to teach someone who never had a lesson or held the pipes in his arms.
The Atlantic Watch offers free lessons and access to the instruments to anyone interested and will even provide uniforms with a small deposit, band members noted.
The Atlantic Watch has scheduled an open house on Thursday, April 10, at the Red Bank Primary School, 222 River St., “Where anyone is welcome to come and inquire,” Cooper said.
Another reason Whyte continues as a member is “the appreciation of the audience.
“When you have people 10-deep on both sides of you cheering, it’s pretty rewarding,” he said.
Learning to play the bagpipes is not easy. It takes years to become comfortable with the instrument, to say nothing of mastering it, Whyte said.
Arch Laird, a Rumson resident whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Scotland, has an older brother who also is a bagpiper. “When I hear the pipes it really excites me,” he said. “Pipes are in my blood.”
Cooper of West Long Branch now has her sons, Tom, 15, and David, 8, involved. When Tom expressed an interest in learning to play the drums, his mother suggested he begin with the Atlantic Watch. Now that he plays drums, he is interesting in tackling the bagpipes.
“At first it was pretty weird, but it does feel good playing,” Tom said, who enjoys the sense of camaraderie he experiences as a band member.
“There is definitely a feeling of pride” when they’re performing, Whyte said.
For Cooper, who started out as a flag bearer and was content to do that until she took up the drums, “It’s a chance to spend time with my sons, doing something we’ve come to love.”
The Rumson St. Patrick’s Day Parade will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 9, and continue along River Road to Piping Rock Memorial Park.