After a hectic day at work, Chris Armstrong, 27, reaches into a case and assembles his peace of mind, the Great Highland bagpipe.
Armstrong began teaching himself how to play the bagpipe in 1998, but he didn’t become serious until 2001, around the time he graduated from high school.
He enlisted the help of Russ Spaulding, former pipe major in the Chattanooga Pipe Band, to truly begin learning the instrument of his ancestors. The lessons continued for five months, during which Armstrong discovered he could celebrate his Scottish heritage in a way that would pay off.
“When I first started playing, I was playing out in the park with a drum circle and then I thought maybe I could make a few bucks at it,” he said. “So I started setting my case out on the bridge.”
He guessed right, but his status as a Walnut Street Bridge performer didn’t last long, with college relocating him to Atlanta. While there, he continued his bagpipe lessons, this time from Jerry Finegan, former pipe major of the Atlanta Pipe Band.
Practice is the key to improving and maintaining skills and, keeping that in mind, Armstrong found a permanent spot at the corner of Market and Third streets after moving back to Chattanooga.
Four or five times a month, he entertains passers-by with Scottish jigs, reels and, of course, the highly requested song “Amazing Grace.”
He said the reactions touch both ends of the spectrum.
“Either people will give me a thumbs up, cheer, throw some money in my box or sometimes they’ll cuss me.” When the latter happens, Armstrong keeps his courage and continues playing. He knows the cheers and plugged ears are just part of being a musician.