Bagpipers Perform On Behalf Of First Responders, Get Standing Ovation From Wyoming Legislature

Before members of the 67th Wyoming Legislature could fill the state Capitol chambers with the hustle and bustle of political babble, the sound of Scottish bagpipes resonated through the halls. 

Leo Wolfson

February 18, 20233 min read

Bagpipers at Capitol 9 2 17 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Before members of the 67th Wyoming Legislature could fill the state Capitol chambers with the hustle and bustle of political babble Thursday, the sound of Scottish bagpipes resonated through the halls. 

Matt Mitchell and Eric Willcox of the Lander Volunteer Fire Department Pipe Band played three songs for the state Senate and House, “Scotland the Brave,” “The Bells of Dunblain” and “Green Hills.”  

“That was probably the most pressure I’ve felt,” Mitchell said of playing before the 93 lawmakers.  

Willcox and Mitchell got standing ovations from both bodies. 

Perfect Pipes 

The Pipe Band plays at the Wyoming Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial in Riverton and at as many veteran and firefighter memorials its members can attend. 

When Irish and Scottish immigrants first came to America, most of the jobs they could get were limited to public service professions like the military, law enforcement or serving as firefighters. There, the connection between bagpipes and first responder funerals was born. 

Now bagpipes are one of the most common types of music played at these ceremonies. 

“It’s become the culture and kind of nationwide at this point,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell is an Air Force veteran who served in the Iraq War. He said what brings the band together is a united desire to support first responders. 

“They’re the ones that run toward trouble when everyone else is running away from it,” he said. 

Mitchell helped found the Jerry Behrens Foundation, an organization dedicated to serving military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue personnel.  

The pipe band has helped with awareness for the foundation, which has raised about $100,000 for veteran first responders over the last five years. Mitchell said the groups help promote each other. 

“It’s kind of a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said. 

The Show Must Go On

About 10 members of the band were set to play Thursday, but because of dangerous road conditions between Lander and Casper all but Mitchell and Willcox opted out. 

They had an easier path to the Capitol from where they live in Casper. 

“Wyoming is a state with vast distances so we’re able to put together a pretty special band despite those distances,” Willcox said. “Coming together when we can but keeping on the same page musically, I think that has gone a long way to producing quality bagpipe music.”  

Although bagpipe performances are common on the East Coast where there is a sizable Irish population, it’s less common in Wyoming. Willcox believes this makes the bagpipe performances that happen in Wyoming that much more special.

How To Play 

Some consider the bagpipe, which dates back to at least the 13th century, one of the most difficult instruments to play because it requires simultaneous arm movement and extensive lung capacity.  

“You have to keep your pressure steady because you’ve got four reeds,” Mitchell said.

Willcox said novice bagpipe players begin playing on a recorder-like device before taking on a full bagpipe.  

“Becoming proficient with it is really a lifelong endeavor,” he said. 

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter