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'We're passing on a legacy': Portland Firefighters Pipes and Drums band is thriving

Two years ago most band members didn't know the first thing about drums or bagpipes. It seems they've since gotten the hang of it.

PORTLAND, Oregon — On a damp, gray night in Southeast Portland, the sound of bagpipes and drums cut through the numbing cold.

“There's a lot of emotion in that music,” said Gordon Convoy, lead band instructor for the Portland Fire Fighters Pipes and Drums.

Every Wednesday night, the group comprised of Portland Firefighters Association members practices for moments they can never truly prepare for.

“Our highest mission is to provide music and comfort at a line-of-duty service,” said firefighter and pipe major, Greg Rose.

A few years ago, Rose was a solo act — the only guy in the department who played the bagpipes. But he dreamed of starting a pipes and drums band. Several members answered the call and today the nonprofit band has 20 performing members representing all ranks from firehouses across the city.

“Almost everybody in the band had never even touched the bagpipes,” said band member and battalion chief, Dusty Miller. “The fire service is like a big family. This has kind of created a family inside of a family.”

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Convoy, the band’s lead instructor, is passionate about supporting first responders. For 18 years, he served as a police officer in Scotland. He's been playing the bagpipes since he was a child.

“We're passing on a legacy and an important part of our culture,” said Convoy. “And one day I might need these guys if I pass away — and I want it to sound good!”

Band members will tell you firsthand that neither the bagpipes nor the drums are easy instruments to master. For two years, all the band did was practice together. Last May, they performed together in public together for the first time.

“It was incredibly terrifying, you know?” said Miller. "Cause this is not easy and we didn’t want to disappoint anyone."

The performance was a success and in September, the band performed in honor of those killed 20 years ago on Sept. 11.

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“I hope it brings people a sense of pride, it certainly does for me,” said Rose. “Hopefully it brings comfort to people who have lost a loved one or it brings joy to people who are celebrating something”