Playing for the president
Gene Kutzler of Northampton recalled his father, Paul, a bugler with Northampton American Legion Drum and Bugle Band, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1953 inauguration parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Now, decades later, Kutzler was thrilled to be part of the inauguration celebration for President Donald J. Trump as a pipe major with Celtic United Pipes and Drums, which performed at the Lincoln Memorial two Thursdays ago.
Kutzler and 22 band members traveled to the nation’s capital for a six-minute performance as part of the Voices of the People concert at the National Mall. Sporting traditional Celtic kilts, they entertained the crowd with Scottish bagpipe music — “Green Hills of Tyrol,” “Battle’s O’er,” “Epic,” “Wings” and a rendition of the theme from “Star Wars.”
Initially, the Bethlehem-based bagpipe band was to march in the parade Friday, taking the same route Kutzler’s father did in 1953, but organizers shortened the parade and its list of participants; however, the band was still on to perform at the Thursday Voices of the People concert.
Kutzler told the story of his father’s experience to a CBS Philadelphia TV reporter, who was looking for a Pennsylvania music organization for the station’s telecast that day. Fighting back tears during the interview, which also featured the Celtic United Pipes and Drums, Kutzler relived the event when he watched his uniformed father march proudly toward the Capitol and the reviewing stand, from which Eisenhower was watching.
“I was 7 or 8 years old,” Kutzler said. “My aunt had the only television set in the neighborhood. We were watching the inaugural parade on a small black and white TV when my father and the Northampton American Legion Drum and Bugle Band passed by, my father playing a trumpet.”
Kutzler’s journey toward the historic performance began decades ago when he and his wife Judy vacationed in Scotland. Kutzler remembers wanting to purchase a kilt to take back home to the borough.
He recounted, “My wife said, ‘You can’t wear a kilt unless you play bagpipes.’”
Soon after, Kutzler’s daughter-in-law, then a Liberty HS student and member of the school’s Grenadier Band, presented him with a chanter, similar to a flute.
Hooked, he soon began taking bagpipe lessons from a professor at Moravian College.
The rest is history.
Kutzler is a former full-time Northampton police officer and a retired mail carrier. He is now a part-time police officer and borough code enforcement officer. He has his own small band, Celtic Adventure, playing guitar and bagpipes. He also sings and tells stories.
The larger group, Celtic United Pipes and Drums, performs at Kilts in the Park, Northampton, and Celtic Classic in Bethlehem. In 2007, the band opened for Rod Stewart during a concert in Luzerne County.
When asked how a person named Kutzler came to play Scottish music, he replied he is 13 percent Scottish and 4 percent Irish. In fact, his great-grandmother’s last name was McClery.