Bremerton's plaid piper

Bremerton firefighter Jimmy Hendryx, front and center, leads a contingent of bagpipe players Dec. 8 at the memorial for four Lakewood police officers murdered in November. - Courtesy Photo/Hero To Hero Troop Morale Campaign
Bremerton firefighter Jimmy Hendryx, front and center, leads a contingent of bagpipe players Dec. 8 at the memorial for four Lakewood police officers murdered in November.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/Hero To Hero Troop Morale Campaign

Four police officers were dead and the drone of bagpipes filled the Tacoma Dome.

More than 20,000 people stood as pipers and drummers marched toward a quartet of caskets draped in red, white and blue.

Leading the battalion of pipers was Bremerton firefighter and paramedic Jimmy Hendryx.

“It’s one thing to listen to an individual piper play,” Hendryx said, describing the march across the arena floor when the fallen Lakewood officers were memorialized Dec. 8. “But when you get 40 pipers together, playing as one, it kind of makes your hair stand up.”

Hendryx played in the opening and closing ceremonies at the memorial service and is using the experience as a catalyst to expand — and unite — the area’s modest piping community, musicians often called upon for funerals.

The day marked the first time Hendryx, pipe major of Pierce County Firefighters Pipes and Drum, played alongside his counterparts at Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drum.

“I tell people at work, ‘Out of every tragedy, if you look at it, something positive happens,’” he said, describing the service, which ended with the pipers and drummers playing “Amazing Grace.” “The emotions of that day — obviously, what a tragedy.”

Now the Poulsbo resident, 40, hopes to form a contingent of Kitsap County pipers, the goal being to combine the Puyallup-based Pierce County group with a Kitsap following to form one, larger piping club.

He and two friends are aboard, both Poulsbo firefighters, but the group needs more participation to justify a formal club.

Those who wish to join must be a professional firefighter, but that’s the only prerequisite.

“The ultimate goal is to see what the interest is, here in Kitsap,” Hendryx said. “The Kitsap part, we could get together and practice two or three times a month. Then maybe once a month, the whole group would get together from Puyallup.”

Hendryx — his full first name is James, but, “How can you not go by Jimmy with a last name like Hendryx?” — bought his first bagpipe about four years ago.

The father of two grew up in Camas wanting to play the pipes because he was drawn to the sound, remembering his neighbor playing the pipes.

He ended up going into choir — and never learned other instruments — but the day finally came when he dedicated himself to the pipes. It took little time for the passion to kick in.

Now, Hendryx’s friends and colleagues are enjoying his music.

“He plays almost every day at the station. His devotion is incredible,” Lt. Brian Viergutz said. “The sound, it’s hard to put a finger on, but it gives you a sort of tingling feeling,”

Hendryx takes lessons once a week, participates in a weekly practice with the Pierce County pipers, which he joined last April, and also competes in solo events across the state.

It’s not a cheap hobby, either.

He purchased his first set of pipes for $2,500, but they can cost as much as $8,000.

The trick to becoming a good piper? It’s no trick: practice.

“It’s like working out. If you wanna get in shape, you gotta work out every day,” Hendryx said. “Same thing with bagpiping — if you wanna get good, you gotta practice every day.”

Hendryx’s ascension up the pipe ranks — he is far from the top, he admits — wasn’t painless.

Some neighbors know him better for the drones from his garage than by his first or last name.

And during the early playing days, when he had yet to fully grasp the instrument, fellow firefighters endured Hendryx’s “tunes” at the station.

“It sounded like a couple of cats fighting in an alley,” Hendryx said. “Now they’re just amazed at the sounds I can make up.”

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