Written by Chris Boyle Wednesday, 22 May 2013 00:00
Known throughout the ages for its strong emotional impact upon listeners, the bagpipe has had a prominent place throughout history; innumerable parades throughout America are replete with its unique and stirring sound, and it remains a popular instrument to this very day.
Among the oldest and most-respected players of the bagpipe on Long Island are members of the Amityville American Legion Post #1015 Highland Pipe Band. According to player Joe Heimbauer, the 30-member, all-volunteer bagpipe and drum band is steeped in rich history and time-honored tradition.
“World War II veterans, 23 of them, got together in 1952 and started the band,” he said. “They were all American Legion members and they had a desire to play the bagpipes due to the military tradition, and they wanted to be a part of that...a living memorial to the veterans that had come before them.”
This one-of-a-kind musical instrument has its roots in Europe and was originally used as a psychological war tactic before later making its way to the United States...in a much more benign fashion, of course, Heimbauer said.
“The bagpipes themselves go back hundreds and hundreds of years to Scotland,” he said. “In wars hundreds of years ago, bagpipes were used to scare and intimidate their enemies, because they’re so loud and piercing...and I think it worked!”
The American Legion Highland Pipe Band is a constant fixture in New York parades, memorial services, and military and civilian benefits, said Heimbauer.
“We’re committed to representing the American Legion...since the band was started back in 1952, we’ve marched in every Memorial Day parade and most other significant holidays,” he said. “We do a lot of events where we volunteer our services and give back to the community...we play all of the military tunes that were written over the years, and many of them signify great heroes and pride in different nationalities.”
A relative newcomer to the Highland Pipe Band, Eric Fillinger, 39, works for an insurance company in Hauppauge. He grew up in Bethpage and went to Bethpage High School, and later he moved to Farmingdale where he has lived ever since.
“I used to play drums in elementary school, but I hadn’t played anywhere from 20 to 25 years,” he said. “I was looking through the local newspaper one day, and I saw that the American Legion in Amityville was looking for new members...I gave them a call, and I’ve been with the band now for a year this coming August.”
For Fillinger, getting involved in a bagpipe band was a longtime ambition, fueled by a desire to pay homage to someone special to him.
“My father was a veteran of World War II, and you could say that this is my way of paying respect to him and honoring him,” he said. “He grew up in Brooklyn, and I remember as a kid going with him to the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and listening to the bagpipes there...and now I’m doing it myself.”
The American Legion’s Pipe Major, Chris Beresford, has been a steadfast member of the band for the past 15 years. In his time with the band, the one big problem they’ve faced is with recruitment — or the lack of it.
“What happened was the economy,” he said. “As the economy slowed down, guys had to keep working more and more, and they didn’t have the time to volunteer for things like this. It slowed down the amount of students that we had...drumwise, we’re almost maxed out, but we really need to get the word out to people that we need bagpipe players who have the time to commit to a good cause.”
“It’s not a band...it’s a family,” Beresford added. “You’re part of something bigger than yourself...we have great people here who want to donate their time and go above and beyond. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Beresford’s sentiments are echoed by Fillinger, who hopes to continue his services to the American Legion Highland Pipe Band for as long as he can muster the breath to do so.
“It’s been a great experience. The guys are an amazing bunch, and they come from all over,” he said. “One of the main reasons I wanted to join was that my father is buried out in Calverton National Cemetery, and I wanted to be part of an American Legion hall like him...this is for you, Dad.”
For additional information on the band and its appearance dates, visit amityvillepipeband.com or https://www.facebook.com/groups/59616033522/facebook.