“Introducing the Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band! This band is a compilation of musicians from all over the United States who come together once a year. They volunteer their time, expenses, and talents as they enhance the Nauvoo Pageant with its Scottish theme. Tonight as you enjoy the music of the bagpipes, accept their invitation to join them in Nauvoo for activities and entertainment suitable for the whole family.” These words frequently introduce the Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band in communities near Nauvoo, Illinois, when it performs during the summertime.
In Nauvoo, the bagpipe band plays daily at Mulholland Street parades, pre-“Nauvoo Remembered” vignettes, and the Frontier County Fair. When the sun begins to set, an impromptu procession of children and adults follows behind flag bearers and the bagpipe band playing “Praise to the Man” (also known as “Scotland the Brave”) to the seating area near the stage, signaling that the Nauvoo Pageant is about to begin. During the Pageant performance, pipers and drummers accompany cast members as they dance a lively Highland Fling.
Why do bagpipers perform in Nauvoo? Scottish bagpipes represent Robert and Becky Laird, two of the Pageant’s main characters, immigrants from Scotland, as well as other British saints who came to Nauvoo in the 1840s. Robert Laird, a stonecutter and non-member of the LDS Church, follows his believing wife from Scotland to America. As the Pageant plot unfolds, the message of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the gospel, the temple, and the eternal nature of families touches the Scotsman’s heart.
Bagpipe Band Directors
For four years, Alan and Elizabeth Gudmundson and two of their children participated in Nauvoo Pageant family casts. The first year they performed, their young son Joseph became mesmerized with the bagpipers, and he wanted to learn to play the pipes. In 2009, when the Gudmundsons again joined the Pageant’s family cast, Joseph brought his bagpipes to Nauvoo. Besides being in the Pageant, he performed with the bagpipers while his father played the bass drum. At the end of the 2009 Pageant season, Alan and Elizabeth Gudmundson were called as directors of the Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band.
“This calling has totally changed our experience in Nauvoo the past two summers,” Elizabeth said. “We were told that this calling would bring us closer as husband and wife as we serve together.” Although Elizabeth does most of the communicating throughout the year, she and Alan plan schedules, concerts, and other arrangements for the upcoming Pageant season. “We take great thought in choosing the bagpipe teams. There are many factors to consider, including worthiness, ability, and availability.”
When Alan and Elizabeth’s daughters were young, they participated in ballet, piano, and violin. “So that’s what we parents did—because that’s what they did,” said Elizabeth. When Joseph became interested in bagpipes, so did Alan and Elizabeth. “Our intent was to get involved because we are raising a boy,” and they wanted good experiences for him. As a result, Alan picked up the bass and snare drums and Elizabeth learned the tenor drum. Since bagpipes are loud and pipers can’t hear each other play, the beat of a drum keeps pipers together.
What challenges come to the Gudmundsons by spending their summers in Nauvoo? “The hardest part of this calling is the time Alan has to take off work,” Elizabeth said. Alan teaches at Southern Utah University LDS Institute. “We have no other days off the rest of the year.” Even so, “we have been so blessed from this calling that any challenge or sacrifice becomes a privilege.”
Fifteen-year-old Joseph, who plays in the bagpipe band, said, “I can’t train with my cross country team or go on any more scout camps. We don’t go on other trips as a family. But the positives well out-weigh those things.” Since Joseph’s parents are busy with all band members during the Pageant season, Joseph has time to “introspect” and “handle things more in my own way.” He added, “I didn’t learn the bagpipes for me. Even though I think they are amazingly cool and wonderful, what’s more amazingly cool and wonderful are the relationships that are built and the opportunities I have because I play them. I love to see the smiles when we march in the Mulholland parade. This is a time for lifting others. We get to focus on each individual.”
“One of the most fun events for the bagpipers is the daily parade down Mulholland Street,” Elizabeth Gudmundson said. During the week at 11:45 a.m., band members tune their instruments under the trees by the elementary school and walk across the street, where there is some protection from the hot sun, to march and perform. Merchants leave their shops to cheer and clap as the parade proceeds down the street.
Local people and distant travelers attend this noonday parade. One morning three men were eating breakfast at a local diner, and one asked the others why they were in town. “The bagpipe band goes up and down the street every day, and we came to see them,” one man said. Upon hearing the bagpipes, the men got up from their table and went outside to watch the parade.
The owner of Nauvoo’s grocery store noticed that the band didn’t play in front of his store, and he asked Alan Gudmundson why. Alan didn’t realize that the bagpipers usually finished playing a musical set before reaching the store and, resting their lips, they marched past without playing music. Alan told the owner, “We’ll be sure to play in front of your store tomorrow.” During the rest of the summer, they played as they marched by. At the end of the season, the store’s cashier asked if the pipers would stop and play a few tunes as they did for merchants across the street. The band obliged and played a patriotic set of “God Bless America” and Marine and Army hymns to an appreciative cashier, store owner, and customers.
Bagpiping is steeped in tradition, regiment, and competition, and Alan and Elizabeth have worked with their bagpipers to catch the vision of service. During the parade on Mulholland Street, band members stop and mingle with the audience. “We take hundreds of pictures, let people hold bagpipes and drum mallets, and occasionally let a brave novice drum out a beat while the pipers play. The goal is to allow people to have fun and feel joy,” Elizabeth Gudmundson said. “When we see our pipers initiate conversation and offer their bagpipes for a picture, we know they have caught the vision of loving and lifting those they come in contact with. It’s making friends and loving people. We’re there for them, not just to perform.”
In addition to daily parades, band members interact with the public during the Frontier Country Fair and pre-vignette performances.
For an hour and a half before the Nauvoo Pageant begins, band members greet pageant attendees, take photos, and let visitors play the pipes or drums at the entrance to the Frontier County Fair.
As the band tunes for pre-vignette performances in Historic Nauvoo, “people ask what is happening, and we inform them about these amazing mini-plays that the core cast puts on for visitors during pageant time,” Elizabeth Gudmundson said.
When Alan and Elizabeth Gudmundson were called as band directors, they felt impressed to create outreach programs for communities outside of Nauvoo. “The Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band is a unique group that has become the public relations arm of the Pageant and the Church,” Elizabeth said. “This summer we not only received requests to play songs in front of businesses while doing the daily parade down Mulholland, we had people asking us from surrounding states to perform for various concerts or celebrations.”
The outreach program “has brought a connection with the people in the communities surrounding Nauvoo,” Elizabeth Gudmundson said. “We get to know so many wonderful people, and our lives have been enriched by them. There seems to be a special connection between the bagpipes and the people in the Midwest.”
In 2010, the first year for the outreach program, the band performed in Colchester, Illinois. According to Elizabeth Gudmundson, “the performance was to be at 6:00, and they wanted a 30-minute program. As the time drew near, I felt we needed to leave Nauvoo at 3:30 so we could tune before we mingled and performed.” The band arrived in Colchester about 4:45 p.m. and saw people already gathering. The pipers went a few blocks away to tune, but Elizabeth felt impressed to mingle with the audience. She discovered that Colchester had planned the performance for 5:00, not 6:00 p.m. “I’m so grateful I had the impression to get out and mingle,” Elizabeth said. “They would have thought we had forgotten them.” From the moment band members arrived in this community, Elizabeth knew they were among friends. “The question and answer time lasted much longer than we anticipated.” Then “we had some group songs, solos, and highland dancing.”
During the 2011 Pageant season, the Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band performed in Carthage, Hamilton, and Macomb, Illinois; Fort Madison, Keosauqua, Mount Pleasant, and Keokuk, Iowa; and Memphis, Missouri. Bagpipers played traditional Scottish, patriotic, and contemporary music—and sometimes taught a few steps of the Highland Fling. They performed for Helen Seigfreid, a 103-year-old woman in Carthage, Illinois, and sang “You Are My Sunshine.” Helen sang with them. The band played “Amazing Grace,” and one of the pipers knelt down beside Helen and told her that his bagpipes came from an attic in Nauvoo, and they were also103 years old.
To prepare for an upcoming combined concert, the bagpipe band and the Fort Madison Community Band practiced “Amazing Grace,” and “it blew us all away,” Elizabeth Gudmundson said. “It was electrifying! It was powerful, and everyone anticipated performing it in front of the audience.” A week later, the people of Fort Madison came out in great numbers, with twice as many people attending the concert as the year before even though the heat index that day was 108 degrees.
In Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, the bagpipe band welcomed home local troops from Afghanistan. Elizabeth Gudmundson said, “We were honored last year when the military approached us and asked if we would assist in sending off their troops to Afghanistan. We were doubly honored this year when they approached us to see if we would welcome their troops home.” The pipers marched the men from the bus into the gym, and “the place went wild. You could hardly hear the bagpipes” play ‘Battles O’er.’ After the men were dismissed, there were lots of families hugging,” Elizabeth said.
Final Thoughts from Alan and Elizabeth
Alan and Gudmundson are convinced that “above anything else, loving people is what we train the bagpipers to do. We saw growth in ourselves and in the band participants we served.”
As Alan was cleaning the van the morning before leaving Nauvoo, a man in his truck drove by and stopped and said, “Guess we won’t be hearing the bagpipes anymore.”
Alan said, “Yep. We’re going home tomorrow.”
The man said, “I love hearing them every day at noon when I come home for lunch.”
Alan responded, “We’ll be back again next year!”
The man said, “Thanks!
Thanks to the Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band who volunteers time, expenses, and talents to enhance the Nauvoo Pageant and outreach programs every summer with activities, entertainment, and joy suitable for the whole family.
Rosemary Palmer is Nauvoo correspondent for Meridian Magazine. (Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Gudmundson)
The deadline for applying for the 2012 Nauvoo Pageant family cast, bagpipes/drummers, work crew, and volunteer support is November 15, 2011. (See www.nauvoopageant.org for information and application forms.)