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Watch now: Decatur woman uses bagpipes to connect with heritage, community

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 Terrie Potter plays bagpipes. READ MORE HERE.

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.

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Terrie Potter has been playing bagpipes at various functions. She plays at funerals, weddings and other events dressed in full attire.

“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.

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Terrie Potter of Decatur became interested in playing the bagpipes after seeing a group perform during the Decatur Celebration parade. Potter went on to join the group, the St. Andrew's Pipes and Drums, but now her performances are at more intimate gatherings. 

“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.

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“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.”

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Terrie Potter shows some of the skills needed to play the bagpipes. Although the typical student can take nearly seven years to master the instrument, Potter’s teacher suggested she order hers after only six months of lessons.

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.

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Terrie Potter has been playing bagpipes at various functions. She plays at funerals, weddings and other events dressed in full attire.

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.

Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR


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