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Local piper gives special performance for Akron ‘wish kid’

Kate Glaser
Dan Ryan (center, in kilt), performed with other members of the Erie County Sheriffs Pipes and Drums unit on Saturday, April 11, for Madisyn (right of Ryan, with family), a Make-A-Wish recipient in Akron.

A Buffalo man is making headlines by playing bagpipes for the public during the COVID-19 shutdown, and last weekend, Dan Ryan and friends gave a special performance for a young woman living with a critical heart defect.

Ryan walked slowly and paused often on a quiet street in North Buffalo on a recent Tuesday evening. It started to drizzle on his bagpipes, making his full Scottish dress—complete with kilt, high socks and Glengarry hat—seem all the more appropriate.

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Dan Ryan pauses between songs while playing bagpipes in North Buffalo on Tuesday, April 7.

“Typically, I would just practice in the backyard,” said Ryan, director of veteran services at the University of Buffalo and a member of the Erie County Sheriffs Pipes and Drums unit. “But, I don’t know, you’re shut in the house so much and there’s no better tool for social distancing than a bagpipe because no one wants to get too close to you.”

Ryan said he started venturing out from his backyard to play for neighbors a couple of weeks ago—and the videos they took of him quickly drew attention on social media.

“From there, people started asking, ‘Oh, can you come out this way? Or can you come out that way?’”

Ryan is now fielding requests from across the city and beyond. And last Saturday, he helped fulfill a very special one from Make-A-Wish of Western New York.

“Maddie was just so excited. When she walked outside, she said, ‘I’m speechless,’” said Cheryl Unger, director of program services for the regional chapter of Make-A-Wish, the national nonprofit that grants wishes to children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions.

Credit Kate Glaser
Madisyn watches performers from the Erie County Sheriffs Pipes and Drums unit.

In this case, Madisyn, 20, who was referred to Make-A-Wish before she turned 18, wished to go to Scotland and was supposed to leave on her trip over the weekend. Madisyn has Down syndrome but qualified for Make-A-Wish because of her heart condition.

“She was going to be visiting her sister, who was doing a semester of schooling there,” Unger said. “She wanted to visit the ancestral castle and just learn to play the bagpipes and maybe do some archery. She was very excited.”

Madisyn’s trip is, of course, postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. So, Ryan and other members of the Pipes and Drums brought a little bit of Scotland to her.

Credit Kate Glaser
Ryan and fellow pipers and drummers bring a little bit of Scotland to Madisyn on Saturday, April 11.

“The group performed four Scottish songs, gave her a pin to be an honorary member of the group, and one of the traditional Scottish hats, and Maddie danced a jig along to the music,” Unger said. “Her mother said she couldn’t stop talking about it the entire day.”

Unger added that Make-A-Wish has been forced to delay all of its travel wishes or anything involving a large gathering through May 31, but the organization is still granting some gift wishes during the pandemic.

“We have some computer wishes in the works, a room makeover, we’re working on a playset and getting some of the preliminary work done for some above-ground swimming pools to happen, so you know, we’re definitely working on wishes and still able to bring some joy to the children.”

Meanwhile, Ryan said he’s happy to keep taking requests from Buffalonians who might just need a break from the monotony of staying home.

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
A family comes outside to watch Ryan perform from their stoop in North Buffalo on Tuesday, April 7.

“Honestly, I’ll try to do as many as I can and if it provides them a little diversion and it allows me to keep practicing, then it’s a win for everybody,” he said.

Ryan’s also played at a nursing home and for a friend recovering from COVID-19, and he urges Western New Yorkers to remember: We’re going to get through this.

“There’ll be light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll come out of it, we’ve just got to, you know, there’s some sacrifice now and that will help us get through it faster.”

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.