Meet the Father-Daughter Bagpipers Playing Nightly amid the Pandemic: 'Something to Smile About'

"It's a way to show our support for everyone who's trying to help in this crisis," Heather Irwin tells PEOPLE

Wayne Irwin
Photo: Courtesy Lisa Irwin

Every evening after watching his daughter Nicole, 28, leave for her night shift as an ICU nurse, retired firefighter Wayne Irwin and his younger daughter Heather tuck their bagpipes under their arms and head out themselves.

Repurposing a centuries-old tradition for the Great Highland bagpipe, which has played soldiers into battle since the late 18th century, the father-daughter duo have performed a nightly “Sunset Solidarity” concert on sidewalks around their Downers Grove, Illinois, neighborhood since April 2.

“It’s a way to show our support for everyone who’s trying to help in this crisis,” says Heather, 24, a college student who is self-isolating at home with her parents and older sister. “She is exposed to everything and you just never know,” Heather says of Nicole.

Wayne, 58, formed a pipe band with former colleagues at the Naperville Fire Department after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. “We played at funerals for fallen firefighters and military personnel,” he recalls. He got Healther started on the bagpipes when she was 10.

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“Now, Heather and I play to give people something to smile about,” he adds.

Mission accomplished, says Downers Grove stay-at-home mom Denise Ross. After a “really rough” day of struggling to keep her 4-year-old daughter Margaret happily busy inside, “This music from somewhere just floated through the open window and it was magical,” says Ross. “You feel so alone right now — and scared. But to hear that hauntingly beautiful music, it was a moment of connection.”

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