When Nicholas Haynes graduated from high school, he asked his parents for a present not every 17-year-old would want.
The wind instrument known for its forlorn wailing songs often heard at police or military memorials was also a musical connection to the Haynes family’s Scottish ancestry.
“I started getting into my roots because of my grandma, she really got into ancestry.com and genealogy and she learned we were descendants from someone who came over on the Mayflower. And our family name has been here since the early 1600s … we all just fell in love with the culture,” Haynes said. “My poor grandmother even had to make kilts for all of us, which is painstakingly difficult. But she did it for me, and then my cousins.”
Haynes joined the Kern County Scottish Society, began competing in the rigorous Scottish games and learned how to play the bag pipe through a teacher from Highland High School, a Bakersfield school that has its very own bag pipe program.
“Right after high school I started to take classes, and it wasn’t as easy as it looks,” Haynes said with a laugh. “Then I got busy with life, going to college and working and I stopped playing for a while, until I became a police officer.”
It was at a police memorial in 2017 that Haynes heard the sad lament only a bag pipe can make, and he remembered how much he missed playing the instrument. He began to practice again and hasn’t stopped since. He continues to perfect his playing and joined the Kern County Pipe Band, which often plays at parades, Scottish events, parties, and first responder memorials.
Haynes was hired on St. Patrick’s Day in 2020 by Bakersfield City Councilmember Andrae Gonzales to serenade residents in his district during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents were able to watch Haynes from their homes as he played classic bag pipe songs to lift their spirits.
Haynes feels a sense of pride when he puts on his uniform to play at a memorial or most recently, a 9-11 service. His jacket is a dress blue with his Bakersfield Police Department patch sewn on his shoulder. He puts on his police memorial tartan, each color a symbol for law enforcement: blue, a thin blue line, green for Scottish ancestry, and silver and gold to represent the police badge.
For Haynes, it’s a collision of everything he is – a police officer, a Scot and a bag piper.
“Bag piping is definitely one of the harder instruments to play, there are only nine notes and 1 octave, so you kinda get tricked into thinking this will be easy,” said Haynes. “It’s taken a lot of practice, but right now I know about 60 songs, everything from classical bag pipe music to laments.”
He is in the process of starting a police and fire pipe band in Kern County, where they will have their own name and uniform.
“If you go to the East Coast, a lot of departments have a pipe band and bag pipe players on the force. It’s part of their history,” Haynes said. “I’d like to see this here.”