Emory Report
February 2, 2009
Volume 61, Number 18



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February 2
, 2009
Bagpipes are wind in his sails

By Patti Ghezzi

Some days when the weather is mild, teachers and students at the Glenn School crane their necks to figure out where the beautiful music is coming from.

They’re listening to Kevin Dugas play his heirloom 1910 silver and ivory Henderson’s bagpipes. When he has a few spare minutes, the lab coordinator for the Bauer Memory Development Lab steps out onto the back balcony to play the instrument he picked up at age 10.

A native of Nova Scotia, Dugas grew up in a rural community rich in musical tradition, surrounded by the fiddle, the piano, square dancing and Gaelic speaking. His mother is an accomplished step dancer. Dugas took to the instrument his great-uncles played and now competes internationally.

A professional class competitive bagpiper, he travels the world as a member of the 78th Highlanders Halifax Citadel Grade I Pipe Band. The band made Canada proud when it advanced to the finals in the world championships held in Glasgow in 2005.

Two years later, Dugas, who earned a bachelor’s with honors from St. Francis Xavier University, arrived at Emory to manage the lab led by Patricia Bauer, senior associate dean of research.

The Bauer Memory Development Lab at Emory researches memory development in typically developing children and adults. Families from the community bring their kids, infants through age 11, into the office, which has a homey atmosphere. Children are tested in ways that make it seem like a fun game.

“We stay very busy with parents bringing in their children,” says Dugas, who was looking to gain valuable research experience while making sure he is on the right career path.

When Dugas sought out local pipers, he found the large, energetic and accomplished Atlanta Pipe Band, which was formed in 1970 and includes a few Emory alumni.

“Our community is unique in you’re accepted anywhere in the world,” he says. “Anywhere you go, you can meet up with pipers and drummers who share that common passion.”

He’s now with the 50-plus-member band, which has competed around the South. As a solo performer, Dugas competes in the professional grade. The Atlanta band competes at Grade III, yet Dugas says he finds playing with and instructing them challenging and rewarding.

Unlike Dugas’ Canadian band, which is publicly funded, the Atlanta Pipe Band earns money for kilts and travel by performing. The band has a tradition of playing at Commencement, which gives Dugas a chance to expose his Emory peers to his music.

He got another chance last fall, when Dugas competed at the first-ever Emory Arts Competition. He was excited to be chosen as one of 10 finalists — and the only piper — from 150 applicants.

Dugas is also teaching private lessons for the first time in his career. “There are not a lot of instructors in Atlanta,” he says. “I’m happy to provide my experience.”

A student as well as a teacher, Dugas still studies under an instructor in Halifax. Now in his seventh season with the professional band, he returns to Canada one weekend a month for intensive rehearsals.

He has discovered at least one benefit to playing in the South. The Atlanta Pipe Band enjoys a longer competitive season because of the warmer climate. In Canada, his season runs from June to August. In Atlanta, he competes from March to October. “You can’t have outdoor competitions in cold weather,” he says.

Dugas’ days of playing on the balcony are numbered. In the spring, the lab will move to the new psychology building. Soon after, Dugas will leave Emory for graduate school, probably at a university in Canada. He plans to continue his psychology studies in hopes of earning a doctorate and becoming a school psychologist.

Regardless of where his career takes him, he plans to keep piping. “I’m competitive by nature,” he says. “I’m not a sore loser, but I do enjoy competing.”