OAKLAND – It’s not unusual for loud noise to blare from the Oakland Fire Department headquarters. But one night a week, it’s a little more melodic.

Every Thursday evening, the Fairfield Street station serves as a practice space for the Dunlap Highland Band, a group of bagpipers who come from around the state.

Half the group practices in Oakland, and the other half meets on Sundays in Old Orchard Beach. The entire band comes together for a dozen or so performances a year, many of which are parades. They will march through the streets of Old Orchard Beach this afternoon. They are also scheduled to appear in the Winslow Fourth of July parade.

It was at the parade in Winslow two years ago that Vera Maheu of Waterville first saw the group perform and thought she might like to try to play in it herself.

George Pulkkinen, the band’s pipe major, said he remembers getting a phone call from Maheu, who asked him if a French Canadian could learn to play the bagpipes.

“She’s proof that one can,” Pulkkinen said at rehearsal last week.

The members, who range in age from 14 to 71, all have different stories about why they joined the band. For some, it’s a way to honor their heritage. Others started coming to practices out of curiosity.

But it’s the friendships formed within the group that keep the members playing.

“It’s the different people you meet, the camaraderie,” said Alex Phair of Fairfield.

And the Dunlap Highland Band is always looking for new members. The group invites people who are interested in learning to come to a Thursday rehearsal. Pulkkinen won’t charge for lessons, but the members warn it takes a lot of practice.

“We’ve had several people come and go — who want to try it and it didn’t work out, and plenty who’ve stayed,” Phair said.

Though the members admit they’re not the most skilled bagpipe band in Maine, their purpose extends beyond performances.

“It’s important to keep the culture going,” Pulkkinen said.

As the band played in the parking lot of the fire station last week, people in passing cars turned their heads to look. One pulled over and stayed a while.

Just practicing in public fulfills a major part of the band’s mission.

“We really want to expose it to a lot of people,” Pulkkinen said.


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