Dan Kulhanek has been a musician for a quarter decade, but only picked up the bagpipes a few years ago.
“Music has always been a part of my life,” shares Dan Kulhanek via email. The 37-year-old resident of Ohio began his sonic journey in junior high playing the saxophone, before switching to the tuba in high school, where he also sang in the school choir. He taught himself to play guitar also.
Kulhanek, who is of German and Czechoslovakian descent, is married to a woman with Irish and Scottish heritage. “During the early part of our relationship, I was exposed to Celtic Festivals and Highland Games,” he recalls. “I was drawn to the allure of the history and folklore of Celtic culture as well as the music. I would listen to Celtic music while studying when I was in nursing school.”
Today, Kulhanek is a registered nurse with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. His foray into playing the bagpipes started while he was a member of a committee seeking ways to honour military veterans who had passed away in the medical centre.
“We came up with a ceremony called The Final Salute. When a veteran dies the body is transferred into a morgue cart and draped with the American flag and the service emblem of their military branch of service attached to the sides. An overhead page announcing ‘Final Salute’ with the location is broadcast across the medical centre. All available personnel line the hallways between the location where the veteran passed away and the morgue.”
Kulhanek was tasked with leading the Honor Guard and escorting the veteran to the morgue while playing the pipes through the centre – a responsibility he still holds today.
Now a full-fledged member of the Capital City Pipes and Drums in Columbus, Ohio, he also has a “thriving business” playing bagpipes on the side. The challenge, he notes, is getting people to take the instrument seriously.
“I have been at events where I was told the nature of the occasion, only to find out that I was part of an elaborate joke. One such request was to play at a funeral, only to discover that the client was a college fraternity wanting a piper to play for their dead goldfish.”
That said, the feeling of bringing joy to others through music at special events makes it all worthwhile.
“Whether it is a wedding where I march the bride and groom in to an upbeat happy tune, or at a funeral and the haunting sounds of ‘Amazing Grace’ fading off as I leave a gravesite service, bringing closure to a grieving family…
“Music has a powerful way of touching our souls. Being able to be a part of that is very cathartic.”
Kulhanek plays a set of McCallum P0 Great Highland Bagpipes, but now that he is sure that he will be “sticking with” piping he plans to upgrade in the near future. He is also trying his hand at a set of smaller Gibson Fireside Pipes that are ideal for indoor events.
“When I am in a parade, or performing solo, there is always a lot of interest from the young people. I get asked all the time if I offer lessons or where they can get involved in piping.”
He believes that in order to increase interest, exposure is key – after all, that is what got him into piping in the first place.
“I try to do my part by volunteering for community or school presentations. If a young person is intrigued, I will let them handle my pipes, take them apart, show them how they work and even let them try to play them. But you have to be able to connect on their level as well. Right now, with the upcoming generation, that is social media.”
He adds that social media presence is more important than ever given the COVID-19 pandemic. “This opens the door to all kinds of opportunities for organizations to offer virtual events, online concerts, etc.,”
For his part, Kulhanek is taking a bit of a hiatus from piping as he earns his master’s degree. However, he hopes the pandemic recedes enough so he can get back to the competition scene during the 2021 pipe band season.