If you live in Androscoggin County, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Williams patrolling the back roads. He’s been out there nearly two decades, after all, and he’s covered a lot of ground in that time.

If you’ve ever been to a police memorial or a Kora Shrine parade, it’s likely you’ve run into Williams there, as well. Self-taught on the bagpipes, is Williams, and if he’s not dressed in his police browns, he may be donning the colors of the kilt and playing a solemn tune.

There are times when the two worlds of Randy Williams collide — he’s often on-duty when he’s playing the pipes, you see, and if an emergency call should come in, Deputy Williams has to scramble. Does he show up at a crash scene or other emergency in a kilt and with the bagpipes slung over a shoulder? Read on to find out. We caught up with Williams between public performances and asked him a few questions about policing and playing the pipes.

Randy Williams Submitted photo

How did you get into the bagpipes? As a teenager I was interested in going into law enforcement. My interest in bagpipes started around then as they both seem to go together well and the somberness of law enforcement funerals really made an impression on me. I bought a chanter (similar to a recorder that you begin to practice on before moving to the pipes) and began learning, but ended up packing it away after moving. For years I still had the interest but never got around to beginning to learn. Years later I finally got motivated and began self-teaching from a music book I ordered. I talked to a local Lewiston police officer who played the bagpipes and he told me he was in a local band, the Maine Public Safety Pipe and Drum Corps, who teach and perform at funerals and many other events, so I started with them. Just recently I became a Shriner and now play with the Kora Highlanders too.

What’s the hardest thing about playing the pipes? Bagpipes are an “animal.” Once you learn the notes on the chanter and can play relatively well without sheet music, you can start playing on the bagpipes. It is recommended that even people familiar with music start on the chanter, as playing the bagpipes kind of gets complicated. You have to play the tunes while not being able to see your fingers, blowing up the bag AND applying steady pressure to get consistent sound. And sometimes you have to march and stay in step with a drum beat. Also there are four reeds that make sound that you have to monitor and keep tuned together. The reeds can be temperamental to moisture, temperature and humidity. From time to time I practice while distracting myself just to help me for those performances. Also playing on your back porch is much different than playing in a group. In a group you can’t hear yourself playing because the bagpipes are fairly loud. The only time you can really hear yourself is when you aren’t playing the same notes as the others . . . which isn’t good.

Is there a uniform that goes with your public performances? I have a few kilts at home as I play with the Maine Public Safety Pipe and Drum Corps, the Kora Shrine Highlanders, and for the Sheriff’s Department. Lately the majority of the funerals I have done for the Sheriff’s Department occurred when I was on duty so I was in my duty uniform (I refuse to respond to a crash with my kilt still on). With those kilts I can match it with a tee shirt if playing in a pub, a large jacket called a doublet, a fancy Scottish tuxedo called a Prince Charlie, or my uniform badge shirt.

Do you play any other instruments? I have never played any other instrument besides a recorder in third grade. I did take a music appreciation class in college, but that gave me more education on orchestra set up and the diagnosis of Beethoven’s Symphony #5. My music book slowly taught me to read music and to learn the notes up and down the scale before teaching me some tunes.

Do you have a favorite bagpipe piece of music? I really enjoy “Itchy Fingers” which is a faster tune that I cannot play yet. It is a pretty advanced tune that’ll take me a bit of time to put toward practicing it. I normally stick with slower funeral tunes and was just recently introduced to “Mull of Kintyre” that I really enjoyed and am starting to learn now.

How long have you been with the Sheriff’s Department? I worked in the jail for two years and now have been patrolling for 17 years. During my time I have learned to dispatch and have helped out with court officer/records, and civil paperwork service.

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