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The Gordon Pipers: A Family Tradition

Writer / Kara Reibel

A true St. Patrick’s Day celebration would not be complete without Celtic music in the form of bagpipes. This sound from the Gordon Pipers will be heard all day on March 17 at various locations around the city, including Union Jack’s Pub, Knights of Columbus and Binkley’s.

The parade downtown kicks off a busy day for the Gordon Pipers, who perform a whopping 25 times in one day. A chartered bus transports the Pipers on their whirlwind tour of restaurants, bars and parties.

“Following the parade, each performance on St. Patty’s Day is roughly 20 minutes,” said Broad Ripple resident and Gordon Bagpiper, Charlie Pike. “It’s a long, fun day!”

The Gordon Pipers have been synonymous with the traditions of the Indianapolis St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Indy 500 Festival Parade since 1963. Tony Hulman, Jr. was so impressed by the Gordon Pipers’ ability to captivate the massive crowd at the Indianapolis Raceway Park the summer before in 1962, he wrote a check for $10,000 for uniforms. This generous contribution readied the group for the 500 race festivities, a tradition lasting 52 years to date.

“This not only started the tradition of the bagpipers performing with the race, but of family traditions,” said Gordon Pipers President Doug Hardwick.

“Founder Dr. Gordon Wallace Diehl started with five members, and it has only grown from there,” adds Hardwick.

All of the Gordon Bagpipers are volunteers. In order to join, you need to know the history of the band, attend a required number of practices and learn an entire repertoire of songs.

“They teach you how to play the bagpipes and in return, they ask that you attend practices and march in a few parades,” said Pike.

Diehl founded the Gordon Pipers to break down barriers, easing the requirements for membership compared to other bagpipe bands that he found too restrictive. “Only men with height of 6’3” or greater could be in the band,” said Hardwick. “Diehl wanted women and kids to share in the fun, so he started a family tradition.”

The Gordon Pipers boast several family legacies in their organization.

The Diehl family had six members initially. John L. Hudgins, another original member, has shared this experience with his three sons, his daughter-in-law and his two granddaughters, who have all played with Pipers. Sharon, Hudgin’s daughter-in-law, and her daughters, Laura and Jessica, play the bagpipes and are also Highland Dancers.

Heather Kreighbaum along with her brothers, Quinn and JR, grew up with the Pipers. Kreighbaum was only 2 years old when her father, Jess Ray, started as a drummer with the Gordon Pipers in 1980.

“I grew up going to practices, Tartan Balls, races and parades. I would hang out with the other kids whose parents were also Pipers,” said Kreighbaum, “Now my two daughters are a part of the band, at ages 6 and 4.”

“I love it, it’s a great family to be a part of,” said Kreighbaum. While her brother Quinn earned his rookie stripes with the Gordon Pipers in 1994, Kreighbaum earned hers in 2004. The first parade for her daughters was last May, breaking them in with true fashion with the Indy 500 Race Parade. “We have a lot of fun with marching with the Pipers,” said Kreighbaum.

And it is not just Kreighbaum and her daughters that enjoy the group. “I love being a part of such a great group, they are all such wonderfully talented individuals, we all do something different for our day jobs,” said Kreighbaum’s father, Jess Ray who plays the drums. “But the music unites us all. It is a unique and special group to be a part of.”

With over three decades of experience, and with the addition of the Horseshoe Pipes and Drums, Ray says he has marched more miles than he can imagine. The Horseshoe Pipes and Drums began five years ago when the Colts asked the Gordon Pipers to become part of their tradition.

“I just like the smiling faces I see at the parades and football games,” said Ray. “And it’s fun. We are all volunteers and come from diverse backgrounds. We have financial planners, business owners, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, and we are bound by the love of the bagpipes. It is also special to share it with my children and grandchildren.”

Doug Hardwick also has three generations of his family marching with the Pipers. “My grandson, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day, is now 4 years old and has his own set of bagpipes.”

Charlie Pike has been a Piper for six years. “Two of my daughters have performed with the Pipers,” shared Pike, who was drawn to the Gordon Pipers for a number of reasons.

His Scottish heritage and the element of the military history of the bagpipes attracted Pike to join. “There is something about the sound of the bagpipes. The instrument is over 5,000 years old and became more of a refined instrument in the 16th and 17th centuries,” said Pike.

Pike grew up attending the Indy 500 with his parents and always looked forward to the pre-race parade with the Gordon Pipers. “The sound of the bagpipes elicits a variety of emotions from people,” said Pike. “It is fascinating to me to witness that.”

Bagpipers, drummers, flag bearers, and even dog walkers are all a part of the Gordon Pipers marching band. Scottish or not, musically talented or not, they will teach you. And even though generations are represented with several members, they have open arms to anyone wishing to march with them. They are brothers and sisters in Tartan.

Binkley’s, Knights of Columbus, and Union Jack’s Pub are scheduled stops! For a complete schedule of St. Patrick’s Day stops, visit 500GordonPipers.com.

Fun facts about the Gordon Pipers!

The sister band for the Gordon Pipers is located in Ingersoll, Ontario (Canada), the birthplace of Dr. Wallace Gordon Diehl. The Ingersoll Pipers march with the Gordon Pipers every year in the Indy 500 Festival Parade.

One member took his bagpipes to Iraq when he was called to duty.

The Gordon Pipers are the only bagpipe band in the world to wear two different kilts of two different plaids. The Wallace Tartan is worn by the drummers and the pipers wear Dress Gordon Tartan. This is done to honor Dr. Wallace Gordon Diehl, the founder of the Gordon Pipers.

The official patch of the Gordon Pipers had dogs on them, as one of the original members was a veterinarian. Once the Horseshoe Drums and Pipes was formed five years ago, becoming a part of the Colts / Irsay family, the dogs were replaced with horses.

The Horseshoe Drums and Pipes is the only NFL team sanctioned bagpipe band in the NFL.

The Indianapolis 500 Museum has an exhibit honoring the history of the relationship of the Gordon Pipers and the 500. As part of the Pipers / track tradition, there are always four bagpipers, welcome back winner, in Winner’s circle to welcome the car back, safely, on four wheels. This started in 1965. Drivers Dario Franchitti, who is Scottish, and Jimmy Clark are both honorary members of the Gordon Pipers.

The Tartan Ball is held every year at the Knights of Columbus.

About Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky lives in the Geist area with her family. In addition to writing, she owns Geist Pilates.

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