Todd Yoder is Goshen College’s vice president of institutional advancement. Yoder wears a suit and tie to the office, but outside of work there’s another outfit he puts on: a kilt, a jacket and a special hat. This outfit is also accompanied by a set of bagpipes.Yoder has been mastering the craft of the bagpipes for 11 years. After graduating from GC, Yoder moved back to the east coast, where he was raised. He decided to learn the bagpipes while living in Pennsylvania, just one year before moving with his wife, Kathleen, back to Goshen in 2013.
Kathleen also works at GC as an assistant to the president of the college. Todd, Kathleen and their two daughters are all graduates of GC. His daughters are the fourth generation to attend the school, as his wife’s parents and grandparents are Goshen graduates.
After moving back to Goshen, Yoder became a member of the Caledonia Kilty Pipe Band, a local bagpipe band based out of South Bend.
“I love the pipes,” Yoder said. “We play weddings at the Basilica at Notre Dame … I played for my daughter’s wedding with the band.”
The Caledonia Kilty Pipe Band has played many times with the Irish folk band The Chieftains, including twice at Chicago Symphony Hall.
“It was a thrill to be on stage with them,” Yoder said of playing with The Chieftains. “They have their own brand of music. They have a network of pipe bands they play with when they tour, and we are the ones in the Chicago/Northern Indiana area.”
Yoder said he is very cognizant of the irony that he plays a Scottish instrument for many Irish celebrations and that while there are pipe instruments from Ireland, the most common bagpipes played are from Scotland.
Yoder prefers to practice outdoors, usually in his yard along the Elkhart River. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, though, he takes his practice to his garage or to the orchestra room in the GC Music Center.
As he puts it, “the bagpipes only have one volume.” That volume is loud, which makes playing in smaller, indoor places painful on the ears of listeners and Yoder himself. Despite this, the Caledonia Kilty Pipe Band holds its practices at the Public Library in South Bend.
Playing the bagpipes can be an emotional experience for Yoder. This past winter, he played for his uncle’s funeral. While the performance was very emotional for him, he was comforted by a comment his aunt made to him after the funeral.
“She told me how much she appreciated me playing and how much she knows my uncle would have loved it,” Yoder said. “That’s very fulfilling.”
The COVID-19 shutdown brought another emotional performance. After the pandemic forced the country to shut down in 2020, it was almost two years until the Caledonia Kilty Pipe Band was able to perform in public again. Their comeback was at an event at Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend.
Yoder said, “Everybody has sad stories. While I was playing, I was thinking of folks we, the band, had lost, as well as me personally. The good news is you can cry full out and still play the bagpipes.”
Certain songs carry heavier emotions when played on the bagpipes. For example, “Amazing Grace” is very emotional for Yoder to play. Along with “Scotland the Brave,” “Amazing Grace” is one of the songs that all beginner bagpipes players learn.
Yoder explained, “‘Amazing Grace’ is very emotional because it is a powerful, meaningful song.” Yoder shared the history of the song.
“A ship’s captain who was part of the slave trade left that life and devoted himself to a monastic life in penitence. He wrote the lyrics to ‘Amazing Grace’ as they were so moving and meaningful to him. That’s why it’s so emotional for me. It holds emotions at a human level, as well as a personal level.”
Yoder’s band considers itself an ambassador of the bagpipes to the community, and it offers free lessons to anyone interested in learning to play.
The band not only wants to bring its love of the bagpipes to the community, but is also looking to rebuild after losing some of its numbers during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Yoder said that anyone interested in learning can reach out to the Caledonia Kilty Pipe Band on its website, ckpipeband.com, or on its Facebook page.
Todd Yoder may look like your average college faculty member, but while he might be concentrating on his next meeting with a school donor, there is a good chance he’s thinking about his next performance in his kilt, jacket, and hat, with a set of bagpipes slung over his shoulder.
After all, he is a piper.