MARK BENNETT: A musical diversion: Bagpipes by the pond at Deming Park

Live-music lunchtime: David Baysinger decided to get some fresh air and play his bagpipes at Deming Park on his lunch break Tuesday. People sat in their cars and listened to an impromptu concert, delivered with safe social distancing in mind.Tribune-Star/Mark Bennett

The hum of bagpipes echoed across the Deming Park pond Tuesday afternoon.

It felt like a sonic therapy.

Joy and surprise pushed away anxiety and fear as park visitors sat in their cars, listening to David Baysinger play hymns on his bagpipes on the pier. His unplanned audience was able to safely enjoy the sounds from a distance well beyond the six-foot gap recommended to prevent spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

For those few precious minutes, the pandemic didn't dominate thoughts. Live music took its place.

Baysinger wasn't on a mission. He was on his lunch break. With his bagpipes already in his vehicle, Baysinger decided to drive from his workplace, B&B Foods, to the park "to keep my lungs up" to par.

His previously scheduled bagpipes performances this month have been canceled because of the coronavirus concerns. Playing for 30 minutes at lunch served as a much-needed practice session.

The fresh air and scenic setting were a bonus.

"I thought I could keep my social distancing, have a little lunch in my car, play a little bit and enjoy being out here," Baysinger said.

People listening from their cars were safe, too.

"You can keep your appropriate distance because you can hear [the bagpipes] from about eight miles away," Baysinger quipped.

He treated the small crowd to hymns such as "Amazing Grace" and "Just As I Am." As an elder at First Christian Church in Brazil, Baysinger often sings and plays such tunes on his bagpipes or saxophone at Sunday services. With public gatherings of 50 people or more restricted by state and public health officials, his church is video recording services to be viewed online, like many others.

Outdoors activities in most parks are OK, with safe social distancing, public health officials say. Baysinger's impromptu lunchtime concert fit the guidelines perfectly, with a handful of listeners seated in cars 50 feet or so away.

"You can have a little social interaction, while keeping socially distant," he said.

Bagpipes aren't the musical sounds typically heard in a city park. An acoustic guitar played on a picnic blanket, or some bluegrass at a pavilion or shelter are more the norm. Bagpipes date back to ancient Egypt, but the form most recognized today became popularized by the Scots nearly 500 years ago. The two versions regularly heard are Scottish Great Highland and Irish Uilleen (or elbow).

Average folks encounter bagpipes most often at funeral ceremonies, particularly those for firefighters, police officers and military service members. Baysinger connected with the instrument while attending services for a fallen soldier in Brazil, where he and his family live. Baysinger served as a major in the Indiana National Guard at the time.

The power of the bagpipes in that moment "just cut me to the core," Baysinger said. He vowed to learn to play the bagpipes after retiring from the military. Six years ago, he retired from the service and did just that.

Today, the 54-year-old Baysinger performs with fellow members of the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums group based in Bloomington. He and his fellow bagpipers have played at events such as the Indianapolis 500, Indiana University basketball games, Indianapolis Colts games, parades and festivals. Typically, March through October is their busy season. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted those gigs, including the St. Patrick's Day parade in Terre Haute.

"But that's OK. There'll be more next year," Baysinger said.

One musical outlet for him is a Facebook page on which musicians upload solo performances during the pandemic restrictions. Another is playing alone on a pier beside a park pond.

"We'll get through it," Baysinger said. "The Lord will provide."

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

Mark Bennett has reported and analyzed news from the Wabash Valley and beyond since Larry Bird wore Sycamore blue. That role with the Tribune-Star has taken him from Rome to Alaska and many points in between, but Terre Haute suits him best.

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