The tune seems at once familiar and mysterious, as if it had floated down from the misty highlands of Scotland to this quiet street in Arlington, Texas, where an old man walking his dog stops, turns around and stares.

Tony Hill stands in front of his home, facing west, and plays “Highland Cathedral” on his bagpipes. The notes of the popular Scottish melody echo over the nearby homes and yards, as the setting sun peeks through the oaks and pines and the dusky sky shimmers with hues of pink, orange and yellow.

In his own way, Hill is offering an end-of-the-day tribute to the nurses, doctors and other health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened millions and killed more than 250,000 people worldwide.

He plays his bagpipes every evening at sundown, and he’s not alone in doing so.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of other bagpipers around the world do the same thing every evening. The sounds of bagpipers can be heard from New Zealand to the United Kingdom, from the Bretons in northwest France, to India and Pakistan, where bagpipes were brought by the British when they controlled the region.

Night after night, united across the planet, the bagpipers make their way outdoors, and play for one reason.

“It’s about saluting the healthcare workers,” said Hill, a patient safety clinical risk manager at Parkland Memorial Hospital.


Historically, warriors from the Scottish highlands marched into battle with a piper leading the way, said Bob Richardson, a longtime piper from Scotland who also lives in Arlington.

That became a problem in World War I, Richardson said, when many bagpipers died in the first months of the war, cut down by machine guns.

But the pipes remain associated with the military and are common at funerals for veterans, said Richardson, who plays during funeral services at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery at least once or twice a week.

“With this pandemic, it’s now a medical battle, but it’s still a dangerous battle,” Richardson said. “It’s still a war, and it’s taking casualties as well.”

So the pipers play for the healthcare workers, both as a tribute and to inspire them, he said. “Because they’re going into battle, too. All over the world.”

And maybe it’s about inspiring us, too. The neighbor, the walker, the gardener, who looks up at the sound, the old man who stops to listen. The worried father. The exhausted mother. The children who can’t play with their friends.

People driving by feel compelled to slow down and listen.

“I’ve had several people in the neighborhood tell me it was so nice to hear that music drifting across the neighborhood,” Hill said. And that’s one of the best things about playing the pipes, he said, “that you know brings people joy.”

To Hill, the sound stirs a longing in the listener. “I think people hear it and they close their eyes and they’re in Scotland looking over a glen with the mountains in the background,” he said.

“It’s comforting and transforming.”


Hill got started late in life playing the bagpipes at age 58. He had played the trombone in his high school band. But after moving to Arlington, he decided to learn an instrument. He settled on the bagpipes because he’d always loved the sound.

Now 63, Hill said he still has a lot to learn about the instrument, which consists of pipes, called drones, and a bag that is squeezed by the piper to supply a constant flow of air to sustain the tune. He takes weekly lessons from Richardson, who has worked with dozens of students over the years.

A few years ago, when word got out at Parkland that he played the pipes, the hospital’s police department got in touch with him. He’s now a member of the department’s honor guard, which participates at funerals of fallen officers, memorial activities and other ceremonies, including a tribute in September commemorating 9/11.

In March, Hill started seeing posts on social media from other pipers he follows in New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain. They were playing a variety of tunes, “but by and large they were all playing Amazing Grace.”

They were doing it at sundown as a salute to their respective country’s healthcare workers.

“And what I found was there were a variety of pipers in the DFW Metroplex that were going outside and doing the same thing,” he said.

Playing in the evening is also a relief from stress for Hill, who works a job where he’s focused on patient safety issues in healthcare.

“It’s a release for me, but it gives the neighbors something to listen to, as well,” he said.

Hill has become a familiar presence in his neighborhood. One recent evening, about 7:30 p.m., he walked to a nearby park next to Butler Elementary. It was mostly empty except for a dad pushing his baby in a jogging stroller and a parent watching her kids playing on the jungle gym and swings.

After an assortment of tunes, he finished with “Amazing Grace.” And then, while playing “Scotland the Brave,” he began walking home.

Before he left, he said he planned to go camping that weekend with his wife, Linda, at Loyd Park near Joe Pool Lake.

“And I’m just going to be playing my heart out all weekend,” he said.


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