Navy Hospital Corpsman John Dawson is the Pied Piper of Planters Park

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Suffolk Newsherald

A typical evening at Planters Park finds children passing football, playing on playground equipment, riding bikes or scooters, as well as adults trying to walk off a few pounds and even a few rolling the dice against heat stroke by jogging.

A few evenings a week, however, things come to a momentary standstill when the haunting, high-pitched notes of John Dawson’s bagpipes pierce the still, heavy air.


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For a few minutes anyway, walkers and joggers pause to look around for the source; the children set bikes, balls and dolls aside to follow Dawson around the park as he belts out &uot;Amazing Grace&uot; and other bagpipe standards.

The 30-year-old Navy hospital corpsman has been playing the bagpipes for about a year. He practices at the park so as not to disturb his Suffolk Station apartment neighbors.

&uot;I always draw pretty big crowd every time I come out,&uot; Dawson said on a recent evening, gesturing to the dozen or so youngsters trailing around behind him. &uot;They like to listen.&uot;

Dawson, a Kansas City native, said he has wanted to play the pipes his entire life and has practiced on a chanter – a bagpipe mouthpiece – for several years. It wasn’t until last summer, however, that he could scrape together the $1,500 he needed to buy a set. He said the neighborhood children enjoyed trying to make sounds come out of the chanter.

Dawson comes from a large family of Scottish ancestry. His father has done a lot of work researching the family history and his brother plays the Highland Drums, but it was a friend in Kansas City who got him interested in the bagpipes.

It’s not just the children of his neighborhood who get to enjoy Dawson’s music. He’s also an assistant Scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 95 in Bennetts Creek and recently took his pipes to Camp Chickahominy to entertain his scouts.

July weather in Suffolk is not really conducive to bagpiping and Dawson’s practice sessions are typically brief. After about 20 minutes, he’s wiping away the sweat and the kids start to lose interest and return to their other amusements.

&uot;They get a big kick out of it,&uot; he said. &uot;But it’s too hot to do it for long.&uot;