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Pipe Band Steeped In Rich Tradition

Amityville band steered by New Hyde Park resident

Known for their strong emotional impact upon listeners, the bagpipes have had a prominent place throughout history; parades across America are replete with their unique and stirring sound.

Among the oldest and most-respected practitioners of this art on Long Island is 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 Two 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 tactic in warfare 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!”

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.”

Loy Latham grew up in Huntington, and moved to New Hyde Park about 20 years ago, where he has lived ever since. The owner of Wiltech Systems, a communications company based in Franklin Square, Latham is the business manager of the band, and sets up their contracts and parades.

A U.S. Army veteran who served from 1969 to 1974, Latham first discovered the bagpipes later in life; however he immediately felt himself drawn to them, and soon expressed a desire to play himself.

“I was 50 years old at the time, and I saw the band playing in the Montauk Saint Paddy’s Day Parade, and I got interested,” he said. “I talked to them, and they told me stop by, and that they’d give me free lessons.”

Despite already being musically accomplished, Latham found the bagpipes a difficult instrument; but perseverance and effort soon yielded results, and he now proudly considers himself a master.

“Many people come in here thinking that the bagpipes are easy to nail down, but they’re not,” he said. “I used to be a musician...I played the guitar and the piano, but this took a lot longer to master. Essentially, you’re blowing four reeds at the same time, and there’s a technique to keep everything going in addition to actually playing the tune. It’s a lot more involved than I ever thought.”

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 that they’ve faced is with recruitment—or rather, the lack thereof.

“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...drum-wise, 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.”

Beresford’s feelings  for his band-mates are shared by Latham, who also considers the American Legion Highland Pipe Band a second family—a family that bands together for a great cause.

“It’s a fraternal thing, a brotherhood,” he said. “It’s not just playing the music or going to these parades...you get to know all of these guys, and it’s a combination of music, playing, the people themselves, and sharing all of that with the communities that we serve.”

For additional information on the band and its appearance dates visit: amityvillepipeband.com or https://www.facebook.com/groups/59616033522/facebook.