- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Dave Kull has worked in law enforcement for nearly four decades, so perhaps it’s no surprise that his musical instrument of choice is one embraced by fire and police brotherhoods for more than a century and a half.

By day, Kull serves as the chief of police of Brandon, a Sioux Falls bedroom community 12 miles northeast of the city. By night, the chief dons his kilt and laces up his Ghillie brogues to play bagpipes for Dakota District Pipes & Drums, a volunteer group that performs at festivals, funerals and other community events.

“Insanity, pure and simple,” Kull jokes when asked why he started. Then he pauses and offers a more serious response. “I always just thought it was a neat sound.”

For more than 18 years, Kull and Sioux Falls attorney Tom Parliman have served as the core of Sioux Falls-based Dakota District Pipes & Drums, which has “grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk again,” Kull said.

The group is again growing, with seven pipers and three drummers belting out tunes during a recent Burns Night gathering honoring Scottish poet Robert Burns. Performances often double as recruiting events.

“We’ll play an event and someone will come up and say, ‘How do you get started in this?’” Kull said.

Dakota District Pipes & Drums has had an easier time attracting and retaining bagpipers than drummers, even though the bass drum and snares are commonly played by every high school band percussionist.

Parliman, a 35-year bagpiping veteran who serves as pipe major, said he knew he wanted to be a bagpiper as a child. His dad enjoyed big bands, but he was hooked on bagpipes the first time he heard the instrument during a parade.

Parliman has always loved the sound.

“Different people just like different music,” he said.

When Kull first started learning to play about 19 years ago, Sioux Falls had no qualified instructors. So once a month he’d make the four-hour trek to Minneapolis, drop his wife off at her sister’s house and attend his lessons.

The first step is to learn note fingering on a practice chanter, a foot-long reed instrument disconnected from the bags and pipes. The endeavor grows far more challenging when the player is expected to keep a steady airflow through the bag.

“Then you have to learn breathing and squeezing,” Kull said. “Then someone comes along and says you have to march, too.”

Parliman and Kull can now teach people to play the bagpipes right in Sioux Falls, and the non-profit group often brings in higher-level outside instructors from Winnipeg. Dakota District Pipes & Drums offers all of its lessons for free during its Monday practice session inside the VA Hospital’s auditorium.

Students must make their first investment when it’s time to buy their own set of pipes, which typically run about $1,500.

“They have to buy their own pipe, but we usually front the kilt when they’re coming into the band,” he said.

And that’s no small expense. The group sends the fabric and measurements up to a woman in Canada who hand stitches each garment at a cost of about $400 per kilt. Bagpipers complete their outfits with a white dress shirt, a black vest, a black tie and Ghillie brogues, which are wingtip shoes with the tongue removed and extra-long laces that tie up the white kilt hose. Accessories include a sporran bag and a sgian-dubh, a small knife tucked into the hose.

The bagpipers have traveled to Winnipeg for competitions and have played funerals, weddings and Mount Rushmore Independence Day celebrations. St. Patrick’s Day is a particularly popular time, although the group prefers to play indoor events rather than the city’s annual parade.

“It doesn’t play well in cold weather,” Kull said.

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Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ddlammers

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