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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

UTC Staff Member Serenades Cemetery

Across the street from the University Center, lucky students have a chance to escape the commotion of campus.

An impassioned, emotional pitch rises above the hubbub of Mocs Alumni Drive, drowning out the commotion of UTC’s campus.

The tune, March of the King of Laois, emanates from beneath the wilted branches of a tree. There, surrounded by weathered gravestones, Christopher Johnson remembers his father, honors his family’s Scottish ancestry and preserves pre-modern folk music with his Great Highland bagpipe–all in a day’s lunch break.

It’s caused a stir within the community; Johnson noted he’s had several recent interviews.

“Who knew the bagpipes could be so popular?” Johnson said. “The residents don’t seem to mind.”

As for why he picks to serenade the cemetery, bagpipes are not indoor instruments. They are physically demanding, requiring lungs full of air and constant tuning, and incredibly loud, making it hard to find a place to practice. 

Meanwhile, he finds that with the bagpipe’s haunting sound and association with funerals, it seems fitting to play in the cemetery.

“It’s better than practicing in my closet,” Johnson added. “When I play inside, I usually have to wear earplugs.”

He explained parks and cemeteries, or any open spaces, allow the sound to travel and not deafen himself or those around him.

His father encouraged him to learn at age 15, gifting him the bagpipes when he first started to play.

In another interview, Johnson told the Chattanoogan his late father originally paid for the lessons, and that while he stopped playing when he started college, he picked the instruments back up a year ago.

“To be honest, it’s something that I feel like I’m pretty good at, like I have a natural inclination at it and some technical ability,” he told Shawn Ryan. “I felt like it was just kind of wasted, you know? I took these lessons and I got pretty good, then I just stopped.”

He tries to practice daily, but he explained time at home is fleeting. Still, Johnson’s fond of the instrument itself.

“I also like the care and maintenance that are required as well as the acoustical properties, craftsmanship, history, and other things you can geek out on,” Johnson added.

A self-described “musical omnivore,” Johnson enjoys some of any music genre, especially when “having a dance party in the living room with my wife and two boys (ages 5 and 2)…” 

When Johnson is not practicing in the cemetery between Mocs Alumni Drive and East Third Street, he works as Senior Instructional Developer in the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning in the Library.

Other than his music, Johnson tends to his family, reads, and spends time with his faith community.

In the meantime, locals should keep their ears to the ground for the ancient, iconically Scottish melodies. By sharing his music with the campus, Johnson shares his love for music, his ancestry, and his family.

More can be read about Johnson in a Chattanoogan article, “Pipes Smokin’: Chris Johnson Plays Traditional Scottish Instrument,” by Shawn Ryan.

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