Sitka’s Alaska Day soundtrack includes pipes and drums

Nearly half of the Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums came to Sitka to perform during Alaska Day. Pipers include Hilton Almond, Dirk Halliwill, Mark Colley, Luke Schultz, Daniel Wade, Craig Warren, and Mike Mihata. Drum major Tyson DePoe has tenor drummers Smokey Simpson and Brandon Freeland, joined by side drummer Jason Lynch. Bass drummer is Gib Mastri. Also with the troupe are Tien Tran, Roger Bianchi, and Scott Kallstrom. Not all are pictured. (Karla James/KCAW photo)

With Alaska Day comes a flurry of visitors — some carrying musical instruments. The Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums landed in Sitka on Saturday and their first stop was the historic cable house, home to Raven Radio, for a live performance.

Listen now

When Alaska Day rolls around in Sitka, you’ll hear the Seattle Firefighters before you see them. At both formal events and the late night bar scene, the skirl of bagpipes and rumble of drums quickly announces their arrival.

The Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums group has been flying to Sitka to take commemorate Alaska Day for over a decade. Their trip is covered by locals and they lend a lot of ceremony to the occasion, which Drum Major Tyson DePoe said is exactly what a pipe band is for. The ensemble has roots in Celtic military history.

“We try to honor the regimental tradition of the history of where pipes and drums came from,” DePoe said.

While in Sitka, the group has also regaled residents of the Pioneer Home and long term care facility, the Coast Guard Base, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Nearly half the group – which has 30 members – flew into town. They’re all active duty or retired firefighters and get together once a week to practice. Membership is voluntary.

“It really calls those firefighters within the department that are looking for something extra – something above and beyond the normal scope of what we do – to give back to not only the department, but the community,” DePoe said. Pipes and Drums plays at events throughout the Seattle and every year, raises money to perform at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Colorado Springs.

The group was established in 2004 to honor fallen firefighters. DePoe said the key to a good performance is knowing your audience and in his case, as drum major, setting things off on the right foot. He’s the loud voice you hear at the beginning, calling the band to attention and setting the tempo for the song.

“‘Green Hills. Battles over,’ and then I’ll say, ‘By the right, quick march.’ So you can hear the tempo there and they know,” DePoe said. “There’s the boom boom of the bass drum, left right, left right, and they march in and play at the same time.”

It’s almost as though DePoe is conductor and metronome at the same time.

And I’m not so good at walking and talking and chewing gum at the same time,” DePoe said. “It’s fairly challenging but this is a great group firefighters here.

DePoe then turns to the group and leads them in the Amazing Grace march.