Thistle and Kudzu

Volunteer bags donations

He can play the pipes just like ringing a bell

Dan Wilson
Salvation Army volunteer Dan Wilson of Athens plays a Christmas carol Friday for shoppers at Sam's Club on Atlanta Highway.
Monira Al-Haroun Silk/Staff

Dan Wilson
Salvation Army volunteer Dan Wilson plays a Christmas carol on his bagpipes Friday for shoppers at Sam's Club on Atlanta Highway. Wilson grows his white beard out for effect during the holidays.
Monira Al-Haroun Silk/Staff

Dan Wilson
Dan Wilson takes a break from playing Christmas carols to watch a shopper drop money into a Salvation Army kettle at Sam's Club. Wilson has been volunteering with the Salvation Army for three years. Wilson raises more donations than the average bell-ringer.
Monira Al-Haroun Silk/Staff

By Rebecca K. Quigley | | Story updated at 12:50 AM on Sunday, November 27, 2005

Salvation Army volunteer Dan Wilson drew stares and pocketfuls of change Friday from Sam's Club shoppers who slowed down or paused to hear Christmas carols from the wheezy drone of Wilson's Scottish Highlands bagpipes.

Foregoing the traditional handbell, Wilson has been playing the bagpipes for the charity, and raising money at about five times the clip of a typical holiday season bell-ringer.

Wilson began his Friday performance with a classic melody from the British Isles, fitting for the bagpipes as well as the holiday season - the Christmas carol "What Child Is This?" to the tune of "Greensleeves."

Customers of all ages dug into their pockets, purses and billfolds to drop money into the red kettle and received a "Thank you, Merry Christmas" from Wilson.

Wilson has been playing the bagpipes since 1989, when he and his wife visited Scotland and heard a parade of bagpipers exiting the castle in Edinburgh.

"The hair stood up on the back of my neck," he said. "I wondered what it would feel like to take part in something like that."

Wilson began playing for the Salvation Army three years ago almost as a joke after talking with his wife about doing something charitable for the holiday season, he said.

Wilson raises an average of $100 per hour for the Salvation Army, $80 more than the typical handbell ringer, said Garry Williams, the organization's kettle program coordinator.

"He's a very popular bell-ringer, to say the least," Williams said, adding that Wilson is the only bell-ringer that uses a special talent to raise money.

The organization used to have a band, and a coronet player occasional pitches in, but Wilson is the star of the kettle program that raised about $49,000 last year.

The first time Wilson played for the kettle program, a woman came up to him and wrote a check for $500, he said.

"That felt really good," Wilson said.

Regular Sam's Club shoppers John and Sylvan Cown of Watkinsville watched as their daughter, Zoe, 10, lifted her brother, Luke, 2, so he could drop money in the kettle.

Friday was the first time Zoe had ever seen bagpipes played in person, she said.

She always has associated bells and chimes with Christmas and bagpipes with Scotland, Zoe said, but enjoyed the new twist of Wilson's caroling style.

"I think it's pretty interesting and captures attention from people," she said.

Although the Highlands pipes are designed for outdoor use, they can't take too much of the cold weather, so Wilson performs just three times during the holiday season for about two hours, he said.

He will perform in the Watkinsville parade Dec. 3 and will return to Sam's Club for a final one-man concert Dec. 10 from noon until 2 p.m.

Volunteers of any kind have been scarce so far this season and Williams said he encourages anyone with musical talent to play carols for the kettle program.

Last year, the Salvation Army had about 200 volunteers with the kettle program, but only has had about 30 so far this season, which began Nov. 14 and continues through 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

For more information or to volunteer for the Salvation Army kettle program, call 543-5350.


Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 11/26/05.

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