BERLIN — Bagpiper Tom Childs is lifting the spirits of local residents during this pandemic by performing nightly on the pedestrian bridge over the Androscoggin River.
Every night at 7 p.m. for the past week, Childs has gone out on the bridge and played for approximately 20 minutes. He admitted being a little nervous the first time but said his playing has been well received. He plays a selection of contemporary bagpipe tunes but ends on an inspirational note with “Amazing Grace.”
As news of his performances has grown, more and more people are gathering in their vehicles with the windows down to enjoy his gift of music. One night he came out to find a couple sitting on a nearby bench, waiting for him to play.
“People are really liking it, he said, adding, “I’m happy just to go out and play a few tunes.”
Childs said the setting over the river with a view of Mount Washington is spectacular and the sound of his antique Great Highland bagpipes travels in all directions. One mild night, two people canoed under the bridge while he played.
“It just takes people away from the pandemic,” he said, adding that he has embraced his nightly performances.
With his wife on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 as an ICU nurse at a Boston area hospital, Childs decided last month to move to the couple’s second home on Denmark Street in Berlin to be safe. While isolating here, he is continuing to work remotely as a construction project manager for a Massachusetts firm. On weekends, he is working to renovate a two-family house the couple purchased on Denmark Street last fall as an investment property.
Childs has been playing the bagpipes since he was 11 years old. Growing up in a family of eight kids, Childs said his parents thought he needed a hobby and suggested he learn to play an instrument. He tried several including drums and guitar, and then enlisted as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol in his hometown. The cadets had a marching pipe band and Childs found his instrument and ended up with the band playing in the parade for President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration.
Since then, he has studied piping and played in a number of bagpipe bands. As a member of the Boston Pipers Society, he has done several live performances with the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Bagpipes have been associated with first responders dating back to the 1840s when a lot of police and firefighters were Irish immigrants and brought with them their Celtic traditions such as playing bagpipes at events like weddings and funerals. Childs noted that association surfaced again after 9/11. Described as having a mournful sound, Childs said bagpipe music tends to draw an emotional response from listeners.