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A Modest, Musical Member of Maintenance – Commencement ‘Piper, Brian Fox

RoConnections - April 5, 2017

Every May, the Rosemont College community comes together to celebrate the commencement of students of the graduating class. For some, it is a long awaited day, while for others it has arrived too fast. Regardless of which, the members of the college community cannot deny that the day itself is an exciting celebration from sunrise to sunset.

Suddenly, a sound shatters the chatter to signify the start of ceremonies. The sound is coming from a man, leading the procession to Connelly Green. He is adorned in suit and kilt with all the requisite additions and is playing an instrument that not many can play, yet alone play well.

That man’s name is Brian Fox and for approximately 15 years, when he is not working as a member of the College’s grounds crew, he has been playing the bagpipes at Rosemont’s yearly commencement exercises.

While he has played at Rosemont for about 15 years, Fox has been playing the instrument on and off for about twice as many years. It all started when Fox was a little boy – he was visiting Ireland and was touring at the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction with a view and aura that captures the hearts of one million visitors every year. The Cliffs stretch for five miles along the Atlantic coast of County Clare in Western Ireland and reach 702 feet at their highest point at Knockardakin, which is just north of O’Brien’s Tower.

It was there, at the top of O’Brien’s Tower, that Fox discovered a bagpipe player, bellowing and blowing through the mist of the Cliffs. Fox said, “That experience as a kid… it blew me away.”

Learning the instrument proved to be a test for Fox, as is the case with any instrument. At first, he started out with a practice tanner, and then had to get the fingering of the instrument set straight. After that he finally was able to move on to a real set of “pipes.”

When he first told his friends and family he was going to attempt to learn this powerful instrument, “they were scared,” he said with a hearty laugh. Nowadays, they have come to be more supportive of his playing.

Fox’s mother is an alumna of Rosemont, herself. A graduate of the Class of ‘58, she graduated with her degree in education before her son joined the community of lifelong learners.

At Rosemont, Fox is a member of the grounds crew within the facilities department, where he has been in this role for approximately 15 years. On any given day, Fox tends to the “odds and ends” of the grounds including the upkeep of campus, trimming bushes and hedges and some masonry work here and there.

In just his second year as a staff member at Rosemont, he started playing the bagpipes at Commencement.

“The man in charge of maintenance at the time was also starting out on the pipes,” Fox continued. “We were in a band together and then he introduced me to some people… and it was all history.”

While many local colleges hire full groups (pipes, drums, etc.) for their commencement festivities, Rosemont takes pride in the tradition of Fox playing solo. For 15 years he has held his own and the College doesn’t plan on expanding anytime soon. He described the first few times as “heading into it very nervous.”

A modest man from top to bottom, Fox simply loves being a small part in a big celebration. His powerful performance is an integral part of the festivities while adding a more unique character than the usual pomp and circumstance.

In terms of growth as a musician and ‘piper, Fox said, “Simply put, I’ve gotten better.” He added, “I’m playing more complicated stuff these days, which is a challenge, but a whole lot more fun.”

Outside of his elegant performance in May, he frequents parties and St. Patrick’s Day parades. As earlier mentioned, he used to be in a band although now he is taking lessons from a fellow player in Oxford, Pa. His instructor, although young, is a competition ‘piper and plays in a number of different Celtic and rock bands.

In the future, Brian isn’t planning to stop playing, but he hopes to possibly pick up the Irish pipes. “There are lots of bands out there, but what I’m working on is more solo material,” he continued.

“All you get is nine notes with the bagpipes,” Fox said. “The Irish pipes have two octaves.”

In layman’s terms… with the Irish pipes, Fox has the chance to eventually collaborate with other players of similar and not-so-similar instruments.

When it comes to the tradition of commencement, Fox found it hard to describe his feelings. After thinking it over, he said, “I really enjoy leading the procession.”

“It’s an honor to play the pipes here specifically since the owner of Rathalla (also known as Main Building) was an Irishman,” he added.

Upon asking one final thing that he wants audience members at Commencement to know, Fox responded, “I’m very artistic all around.” A man of many talents, outside of maintaining campus and playing music, he also creates artwork on the side including stained glass and sculpture work.

Be sure to look for Fox as he leads the way for the soon-to-be graduates of the Undergraduate College and the Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies at Commencement this year. The College’s 94th Commencement exercises will be held Saturday, May 13 and are scheduled to take place at 2:00 p.m. on Connelly Green, weather permitting.