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Bagpiper blows good cheer into WNY neighborhoods during pandemic

Dan Ryan uses a musical instrument whose origins date back more than five centuries to bring a little unexpected Covid-19 era happiness to Buffalo area neighborhoods.

Donning a kilt, high socks and other traditional Scottish garb, the North Buffalo man sets off several times a week to play his bagpipes as he walks up and down residential streets.

Kids and adults from the neighborhood surrounding Edison Elementary School in the Town of Tonawanda stopped to listen and enjoy Sunday afternoon as Ryan spent a couple of hours there.

“People seem to enjoy it, and that’s why I do it,” said Ryan, 59, a member of the Erie County Sheriff’s Irish Pipes and Drums unit. “Any kind of diversion is welcome these days.”

Ryan, the director of veteran services for the University at Buffalo, is currently working from home. He said he believes music has healing and calming powers that will help people through a nerve-wracking crisis.

He usually practices on his bagpipes in his backyard, without an audience. With the Covid-19 crisis confining most people to their homes, he decided to practice one evening in his full Scottish bagpiper gear, walking through his neighborhood and playing traditional songs.

“I put on my gear, walked and played, and I could tell people were enjoying it,” he said. “Kids were coming out to listen.”

A couple of days later, he performed in another North Buffalo neighborhood, outside the home of a woman he knows from St. Margaret Church.

“She had been in the hospital for treatment for Covid-19, and she is in her home on oxygen, so I played outside her house for awhile,” Ryan said.

Ryan then took his one-man show to other neighborhoods. He played outside an Amherst apartment complex where his 94-year-old uncle lives, outside an Amherst nursing home and in the Town of Tonawanda neighborhood near the Edison school, where his longtime friend Ray Smith lives.

Smith’s neighbor, Bill O’Hare, was out riding his bike when he heard the unexpected sound of bagpipes. O’Hare got Ryan to play a song outside the home of a widow whose husband died a couple of years ago.

“This is wonderful,” said O’Hare, who smiled as he sat on his bike and used an iPhone to record Ryan’s performance.

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