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Blind Piper Inspires Hope

Blind from birth, young Decatur musician finds place with Atlanta Pipe Band.

The first time Corbin Allgood McKinnon heard the bagpipes he was vacationing with his parents at Epcot in Disney World.

He was 5 years old, and in his words, he fell in love with them. As chance would have it, the next time he heard the pipes was practically around the corner from his home in Decatur, where the Atlanta Pipe Band practiced every Thursday night at Decatur Presbyterian Church.

It became a weekly outing, listening to the APB play on Thursday nights, then dinner at Mick’s in Decatur. He simply loved the bagpipes and couldn’t get enough of them, said his parents Beth Allgood and Bill McKinnon.

Soon all three were traveling to festivals to hear bands play. The powerful music had struck a chord in Corbin, inspiring him to pursue his passion, learning how to play the bagpipes.

Today at 22, Corbin, who calls himself the Dall Piobaire (blind piper), is visually impaired from complications of being born three and half months prematurely, is a respected member of the Atlanta Pipe Band, traveling, competing and marching in festivals throughout the country. He’s been playing for seven years and last year won the “President’s Award” from the Atlanta Pipe Band.

“The Atlanta Pipe Band over its 40 years has never had a piper like Corbin,” said Bob Boyd, president of the APB. “Too bad because we could have used his exemplary talent and determination every day. At least now we have him with us.”

The journey has been a family affair. Bill attends band rehearsals and gives Corbin feedback on his playing. Beth takes him to private lessons and helps with his marching. Wearing all black and walking behind him, with her right hand on her son’s shoulder she guides him through the ranks. Both Bill and Beth often go to the Scottish Highland Games events.

There are no shortcuts, or excuses for his disability and Corbin, who plays by ear, is expected to play on a high level.

“All my students learn to play properly or not at all,” said Corbin’s private teacher, John Recknagel, pipe major for the APB.  

“As a musician he is very good. He listens and takes corrections — Corbin’s, desire to learn and his perseverance make up for what he lacks in sight,” added Recknagel. “He pushes me in that respect — I like that in him.”

Corbin’s first mentor, John Quinn, a fellow member of the APB likes to jam with Corbin outside of practice. “We have a great time hanging out together,” said Quinn, an Avondale Estates resident.

“Corbin was a skinny, red-headed kid when I met him,” he said. “His parents came up to me after I’d performed in a festival in Franklin, N.C., and asked how to get him started playing the bagpipes.”

Playing the bagpipes is complicated. First students must master the practice chanter, learning the scales and the intricacies of fingering which can take a year or more. When the pipe drones are added, students learn how to blow into the bag and keep the pressure steady. That's a skill Corbin mastered quickly, Quinn said.

“Corbin and I share a love of Piobaireachd,” said Quinn. The Gaelic word, (pronounced pea-broch) is the classical style of Scottish bagpipe music. The form focuses on a single ground theme with variations repeated throughout and can last from eight to 25 minutes. As the piece progresses, the piper’s fingers move at lightning speed playing grace notes and embellishments.

The young musician not only loves the classical style, he excels in it. Last year he placed first in the Piobaireachd competition at the Stone Mountain Highland games in  Senior Grade IV and just last week in Charlotte, he placed second in a competition while playing in a deluge of rain.

Corbin, who graduated a year ago from the Georgia Academy for the Blind is currently attending  and will play the pipes at the graduation ceremony. He also plays the flute, the piccolo, the Native American flute, and the Djembe, an African drum.

McKinnon is scheduled to play at the Easter sunrise service for Kirkwood United Church of Christ at Bessie Branham Park.

Theresa Woodgeard April 22, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Corbin will also be playing at Decatur High School graduation in addition to the Easter sunrise service at Bessie Branham Park.
Beth Allgood -McKinnon April 23, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Thanks to Theresa for this touching account of Corbin! We would be remiss if we didn't mention what an outstanding support and inspiration his sister, Camerin, also a Decatur High School graduate, is in her brother's ongoing success. She scrambles to attend as many events as possible around her hectic schedule teaching dance in Charlotte. She even arranged his first concert last spring at King's Mountain State Park in S.C. I thank Piedmont Hospital NICU for allowing her to visit with her brother in the hospital when he was a tiny tiny baby and it has had lifelong affects on their amazing relationship. Can you imagine a modern dancer dancing to the bagpipes? They even made that happen last Oct. for the Stone Mountain Highland Games! : )
Jody Baden April 23, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Absolutely loved the article!! The only thing missing was the story of the exemplary co-parenting that Beth and Bill have done. While that was not the focus of the story, I wish it had been mentioned it-so many parents need to hear how powerful their cooperation can be for the success of their child. They are both to be commended for that. In fact, I think someone should start a recognition program for parents who work together for the good of their kids like Beth and Bill have.
Beth Allgood -McKinnon April 23, 2011 at 04:32 PM
From Corbin. Thanks for this article! I want to also recognize the importance of the John Mohr MacKintosh band in my love and growth in bagpipes. They were the band that I first met with John Quinn in Franklin, NC and where I got my start. Much love to the John Mohr MacKintosh Band as well. I have been fortunate to have excellent teachers, mentors, bands, band mates and supportive friends!! Thanks everyone.
Miki Fluker April 24, 2011 at 01:32 PM
What an inspiration Corbin is! Having known him most of his life, it is amazing that such a awesome talent sprung forth from Corbin: preemie babies are often so very developmentally delayed to the point that most people lose faith in them & "write them off." I know from experience the driving force behind kids like Corbin is Mom & Dad who make their "far-fetched" dreams a reality by never accepting what seems impossible. In the handicapped world, success is measured by intense intervention & a dose of crazy determination by a handful of loving people. Annie Sullivan Macy believed in Helen Keller even when members of Helen's own family gave up. Teamed together, we remember Helen because of Annie! Corbin & my daughter, Elizabeth, will impact the world because they have talent & were given the opportunity, by many believers, to hone that talent. Congratulations to Corbin for your wonderful achievements! "A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human being and encouraged to shape his own life."
Theresa Woodgeard April 24, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Beth, What wonderful stories about Camerin and her special relationship with Corbin. I would have loved to have seen them perform together. If I'm lucky, I'll get the chance yet.
Theresa Woodgeard April 24, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Jody and Miki: You are absolutely right. The support, sheer drive and love of his family made it possible for Corbin to develop his talent and share it with world. I stand in awe of their determination and courage.
Theresa Woodgeard April 24, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Corbin: Mòran taing.
Emily Willingham April 24, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Dall Piobaire, we salute you! What inspiration you give us all with your passion for music, love of your instrument, hard work and determination, nurtured by the love of your fine parents Beth and Bill and your wonderful sister Camerin. It is an honor to know you all. Love, Emily Willingham and Dixon Adair, Claire & (Young) Dixon
Beth Allgood -McKinnon April 24, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Clever Theresa: Mar sin leatsh
Shantanu April 25, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Hey Corbs....loved the article...You are definitely an inspiration to me....Lets plan on biking sometime soon k...lots of love...Shantanu...
Shirley N. Chambliss April 25, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Beth is my cousin. Her family has always been very musical . Our children are very similar in age , even though I used to babysit for Beth. It is a very special memory when Beth and I sang 'Christopher Robin" to our older children as we rocked them together at a family reunion. It's wondeful how much music and love bind. I have always thought how often those of us who are tied by blood often aren't the ones who love our family daily..thank each of you who have shared a glimpse in to how much you care and understand and have been a part of the special extended world of Corbin.
Gretchen April 29, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Beth, I can't believe how far Corbin has come. I remember meeting him almost 6 some years ago, and I think her was just starting. I can only imagine how proud you are of him. It is God's grace and love that guides him, and he such a testament to him, and the strengh. Wow! Go Corbin!
Mary Noland April 29, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Dear Corbin- I wanted to thank you formally for providing the wonderful music at my mother's funeral two years ago. You are obviously continuing your good work. Thank you. It meant so much to all of us. I hope to hear you again soon. Mary Allgood Noland (your mother's first cousin)
Kristina April 30, 2011 at 10:09 AM
He is fabulous! Always a joy to see and hear him at St Pauls!!! :)
Betsy Rhame-Minor May 11, 2011 at 08:15 PM
What a great story! I'd love to be able to hear Corbin perform sometime. Thanks for sharing, Beth! Betsy Rhame-Minor

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