What to do this weekend: Documentary, pipe-and-drum corps honor fallen police officers
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The pipes, the pipes are calling.
Bagpipes. Awkward, unsightly instruments whose shrill screech is capable of inducing winces and knee-buckling cringes.
But in the right setting -- with the right players -- they produce a beautiful sound that touches our hearts.
You can experience that music Saturday night as the Greater Pittsburgh Police Pipes and Drums performs before a showing of "Heroes: Behind the Badge," a new 90-minute documentary detailing seven stories of police officers killed in the line of duty last year.
The film, directed by award-winning filmmaker Wayne Derrick and narrated by actor Vincent D'Onofrio of TV's "Law & Order," includes interviews with family members and surviving officers.
And why would you want to spend your Saturday evening in such a somber way?
Because these stories matter.
Such was the thinking when the pipe-and-drum corps was formed.
"It was established in 2001 after we had several police funerals -- line-of-duty deaths -- and it was realized that there was no memorial band to honor officers at funerals here," said Bethel Park police Officer Sean Gorman, who plays snare drum with the group. "Since then, we've played at the funerals for every fallen officer in this region. And we've traveled to Washington, D.C., and the state capital for police memorials."
But their music isn't limited to dirges. The 30 members of the group often turn up at public festivals and ceremonies, including the city's St. Patrick's Day parade.
"People love to see us in the parades, but obviously our primary duty is honoring fallen officers at funerals," Officer Gorman said. "We play upbeat music, but we throw in 'Amazing Grace' to remind people that our main goal is to honor our fallen officers.
"Law enforcement is a brotherhood and sisterhood. The addition of the music [at memorials] makes the life of that officer, and that officer's family and colleagues, as well as the general public feel that this is something important. You've lost a member of the community but also somebody that put their life on the line. This makes it special and gives us value."
There is no disputing the impact that the pipes and drums can have. It's like it's instinctual.
"Bagpipe and drum bands have been around for centuries," Officer Gorman said. "Just like fife and drum bands actually were instruments of war, used to recognize their clan or army. We do the same, honoring our group, our law enforcement brotherhood."
So here's your new plans for Saturday evening. You head to the new Bethel Park High School Auditorium at 309 Church Road in time for the 7 p.m. performance. Tickets are $20 at the door, but half the proceeds go to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.
You might need a handkerchief or some tissues. And you also might need a little extra money, because the pipes and drums corps is an all-volunteer group that could use help paying for its travels.
Officer Gorman, who has served the Bethel Park force for three years, said he was always interested in two things -- playing drums and law enforcement. The two loves came together when he joined the group last year.
"I saw them perform and was always fascinated," he said. "I'm 100 percent Irish and always loved the St. Patrick's Day parade."
The members bring varying levels of expertise, but they all have that full measure of devotion.
"We have retired law enforcement, local cops, federal government, gaming agents, postal inspectors," Officer Gorman said. "It's open to all current and retired law enforcement. And we have some paramedics involved as well."
The group has helped foster stronger, deeper ties with other law enforcement agencies. Ties that are explored in the documentary.
You'll have a chance to hear about what went into the making of the film because Lt. William Erfurth, the executive producer, will be on hand to introduce it and then participate in a question-and-answer session.
Officer Gorman said the film should particularly resonate with Pittsburghers.
"We've had so many police deaths in the past couple years -- at a higher rate than other areas of the country," he said, adding that families of some of those local officers will be special guests.
"This is informative because so many people are unaware of the sacrifice our people go through. It's good to bring everybody together."
And the bagpipes.
How sweet the sound.
First Published November 16, 2012 3:14 pm