Music draws people into New York streets in remembrance


September 12, 2002 

NEW YORK - At 2 a.m. Wednesday, A Dark and sleeping Broadway was roused by the sounds of plaintive horns. Instead of complaining, many Manhattan residents cheered. Others stood silently.

Solemnly, bagpipers paced in slow procession on a street famous for its lights, now lit only by the lamps of firetrucks. In this way, their Celtic tune lifted the curtain on New York as it prepared to face the anniversary of Sept. 11.

Musicians in the Fire Department of New York's 70-member Emerald Society Pipes and Drums made the 16-mile trek down Manhattan to ground zero in remembrance of their fallen brothers and sisters and the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center.

Bagpipe processions from the city's five boroughs headed to the site where the twin towers once stood. They joined and played together until a moment of silence was observed at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit.

Hours earlier, a small gathering of onlookers grew as the nine bagpipers and three drummers marched south along Broadway, playing "You're a Grand Old Flag."

Snare drums could be heard from afar, drawing people into the street while the bass drums kept the rhythm of the procession.

"It's a wonderful experience," said Noreen Maher, a 50-year-old Irish American homemaker. "It makes you proud to be an American and just to come out and support all the troops."

She was one of many holding candles and waving flags, cheering on the musicians dressed in blue and green tartan kilts.

As the band approached Times Square, it had doubled in size. Playing "America the Beautiful," the pipers and drummers attracted a steady stream of observers that became a parade as dozens joined the march.

Beneath the predawn black-blue sky, neon lights shined off the members' white patent-leather boots, adding a finishing touch to their impressive garb.

After each song, most in the crowd hooted and hollered with pride, though others walked somberly and reflectively.

"It's a long haul, but it's a nice way to memorialize everybody," said Al Water, a 60-year-old retired firefighter and bagpipe player from Queens.

On this day last year, Water remembers, "I was looking for my guys but they were already dead. There were 19 guys killed from my firehouse. We took the worst hit in the city.

"I'm trying to get back to normal," he said, "but it's tough."

Diana M. Nikkah is a student at the Columbia University School of Journalism.

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