DECATUR — The bagpipes have a unique sound that requires a unique person to play them.
“I love the sound,” said Decatur bagpiper Terrie Potter. “I love the majesty of it. And not many people play them.”
Dressed in her full Scottish regalia, Potter can be found playing the bagpipes at funerals, weddings, and military ceremonies and celebrations. She admits her favorite venues are funerals. “It really means something to them,” she said. “They can feel the music. It’s very moving.”
Potter took her first bagpipe lesson in September 1999. Her heritage includes Scottish and Irish ancestry; however, her interest in playing the windy instrument came during a high school tour to Scotland in the early 1970s.
“There was always a bagpiper playing at every castle we went to,” Potter said. “I just thought, ‘I really want to learn how to do this’.”
Her next interaction was years later while watching the bagpipe band from Springfield, the St. Andrew’s Pipes and Drums, during a Decatur Celebration parade. She approached the group with an interest in joining the band. “I started driving over to Springfield once a week for lessons,” she said.
Although the typical student can take nearly seven years to master the bagpipes, Potter’s teacher suggested she order her instrument after only six months of lessons. “They thought I was OK enough to join the band,” she said.
Potter played with the band for 10 years before she decided to retire from the band and various Decatur administrative positions. Now she plays for special occasions whenever she is able.
The bagpipes are typically played by men. Potter understands why.
“It takes a lot of power to play them,” she said. “But it was a man’s thing a long time ago. Women then just started breaking into the field.”
Two years ago, Potter and her husband, Paul, traveled to Scotland and Ireland, with her bagpipes and full outfit in their luggage. While in Scotland they stayed in an old abbey that had been converted to condos. “Right on the shore of Loch Ness,” she said. “I played looking out over Loch Ness four different evenings at sunset. Truly it was a dream come true for me.”
Potter’s attire is complete with the kilt skirt and Scottish accessories, including a belt pouch called a sporran, and thistle charms representing her ancestral country, and a small decorative knife called a scandi.
“That’s for bad guys,” she joked. “It’s just part of the outfit.”
Potter purchased most of the pieces while she and the Springfield bagpipe band competed at Highland games.
“We would travel, mostly around the Midwest, but we did go to Canada,” she said. “Our band would compete with other bands.”
Scottish bagpipes are different from Irish bagpipes, Potter explained. She plays the Great Highland Bagpipes. Uilleann bagpipes are for Irish venues. “You play those sitting down and they have a bellow system,” Potter said. “They have four octaves in the Uilleann pipes, and these only have nine notes, so just a little over one octave. It’s a completely different sound.”
Potter’s song list includes Irish and Scottish pieces, such as “Danny Boy,” “On Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore” and “Scotland the Brave.”
Potter can be found practicing her long list of song choices in her backyard, which backs up to the Decatur Country Club golf course. She enjoys playing at sunset. “Mostly because there’s nobody out here,” she said.
According to her family and neighbors, the two hobbies fit well together, since golf started in Scotland. “Bagpipes are kind of related to golf,” her husband said.
Jan and Jack Kelsheimer, the Potters’ neighbors, often listen to a little show. “She’s not shy and she has to practice,” Jan Kelsheimer said.
And the golfers don’t seem to mind the bagpipe music. “They say ‘Thanks Terry’,” Jan Kelsheimer said. “They say ‘Keep playing, keep playing’.”
“The sound will carry a mile,” Potter said.
29 celebrities with Decatur ties
29 celebrities from Decatur
Gary Forrester, a New Zealand-Australia based musician, composer and poet who was profiled as one of the major figures in the Australian music scene during the 1980s and 1990s, was born in Decatur and grew up in the Effingham, Quincy and Tuscola areas.
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Jenny Lou Carson
Jenny Lou Carson, originally known as Lucille Overstake of the Three Little Maids, was born and raised in Decatur. She went on to write "You Two-Time Me One Time Too Often," which was the first top country hit written by a woman. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association Hall of Fame in 1971.
June Christy, an American singer hailed as "one of the finest and most neglected singers of her time," was known for her work in the cool jazz genre. She was born in Springfield in 1925 and moved with her family to Decatur when she was 3.
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Brian Culbertson, an American contemporary jazz/R&B/funk musician, has written and produced over 25 No. 1 contemporary smooth singles on the R&R, Gavin and Billboard Radio charts. He was born and raised in Decatur.
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Howard Warren Buffett
A graduate from Mount Zion High School, Howard Warren Buffett currently is a faculty member at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and was previously a policy adviser in the Executive Office of the President of the United States under President Barack Obama.
Steve Hunter, born and raised in Decatur, is an American guitarist best known for his collaborations with Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Bette Midler and Meat Loaf.
Richard Peck is an American novelist who was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2001 for his novel "A Year Down Yonder".
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Icon for Hire, formed in 2007 in Decatur, is an American rock band that has had two Billboard-charting albums.
CeCe Frey is a pop singer from Mount Zion who finished sixth place on seasontwo of "The X-Factor."
Charles Earl Boles
Known as Black Bart, this English-born outlaw lived in Decatur during the 1860s before becoming one of the most notorious stagecoach robbers to operate in and around Northern California and Southern Oregon in the 1870s and 1880s.
Homer 'Boots' Randolph
Best known for his 1963 saxophone hit "Yakety Sax", "Boots" Randolph played with the Dink Welch's Kopy Kats in Decatur from 1948-1954.
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Herbert Dickens Ryman
Herbert Dickens Ryman, who grew up in Decatur, was an artist and Disney Imagineer who drew the first illustrations of Walt Disney's vision of a theme park that eventually became Disneyland. His filmography includes Art Director of Fantasia and Dumbo.
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RonReaco Lee is a television and film actor best known for his roles as Tyreke Scott on "Sister, Sister" and Jamal Woodson the BET romantic comedy "Let's Stay Together." He was born in Decatur.
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David Joyner, best known for his role as Barney, was born in Decatur and graduated from MacArthur High School in 1981.
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Historian Stephen Ambrose, born in Decatur and raised in Lovington, was the best-selling author of books about Lewis and Clark and World War II.
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Howard Graham Buffett
Businessman and philanthropist Howard G. Buffett was the Corporate Vice President and Assistant to the Chairman of Archer Daniels Midland from 1992 - 1995 and is the founder of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. He currently resides in Decatur.
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Most recently known for her worked on Clint Eastwood's "Changeling," Decatur-born Kerri Randles also opened the first ever Hollywood Fringe Festival with her one-woman show "Can't you Hear Me Knockin?"
Musican-actor John Doe, born in Decatur, paved the way for alternative rock with his band X before turning to acting in movies such as "Great Balls of Fire!" and "Boogie Nights".
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Eisenhower alumni Bill "Mad Dog" Madlock, Jr. was a right-handed hitter who won four National League batting titles and is one of only three right-handed hitters to have won multiple National League batting titles since 1960.
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Freddy Krueger, the world's No. 1 professional water ski jump champion, was born and grew up in Decatur.
James W. Loewen
James Loewen, a sociologist, historian and author best known for his book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong," was born in Decatur and was a 1960 graduate of MacArthur High School as well as a national merit scholar.
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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR