Outside the Nauvoo Pageant headquarters thunder rumbles, lightning flashes, the wind rages and the rain pours down. Another Midwest storm rages as the Nauvoo Pageant volunteers prepare to put on, yet another, production. In 11 years, the show has only been cancelled once because of weather. Tonight is no exception. The cast rises and recites in unison, “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, 4:540)
The Bell family and our bagpipes came to Nauvoo when in 2008, my husband, Mark found out that a bagpipe band served as part of the Church sponsored Nauvoo Pageant held every July in Nauvoo, Illinois. The bagpipe band is an important part of the Outreach program, connecting with neighbouring communities to build a positive relationship in areas that have traditionally rejected members of our Church and have not allowed missionaries in their areas. On Sunday nights, some members of the band stay in Nauvoo to play for orientation of each new family cast. The rest of the band joins the community brass band of a neighboring city such as Fort Madison, Carthage, or Quincy. Two of our children, Daniel, at the time age 16 and Olivia 11 were accomplished members of the White Spot Pipe Band in British Columbia, so Mark signed the whole Bell family up to be volunteer participants in the pageant for 2009. Three of us, Mark, our daughter, 14 year-old and I signed on as cast members while Daniel and Olivia went as pipe band members.
In 2013, our son Daniel accepted an invitation to return to the Nauvoo bagpipe band so he went by himself that year. However, I found out that, as part of the 10-year anniversary in 2014, the British Pageant would come to Nauvoo and perform on alternating evenings. The British Pageant portrays the history of the church in Britain, including what led up to the religious revivals, the British saints’ conversion, exodus and arrival in Nauvoo. I felt that we had to go again, but my husband Mark was unable to join us.
That year (2014) we went for the last two weeks of the five-week pageant as Pageant Bagpipe Band participants. As our first week came to a close, I discovered that the band had no bass drummer available for the last week of the pageant. I approached our drum major. “I hear we have no bass drummer next week,” I said. He responded, “Are you volunteering?” I thought about it for a couple of seconds and said, “Sure”. That’s how I became a drummer.
Olivia and Megan and I came to the Pageant again in 2015. We don’t practise as a band at the pageant. Band members receive and learn the music before they come, so they can start playing right away. The band participates in a parade every day except Sundays. We start at the elementary school, march down the sidewalk on Mulholland to Zion’s Mercantile, then cross the street and head back to the school on the other side of the street. Zion’s Mercantile is kitty-corner from the Nauvoo temple. We stop and play at a few places along the way to give people a chance to have their picture taken with the band. When we stop, Megan and Olivia put down their instruments and dance with the other dancers. The drummers step forward and sing, too. We use whatever talents our members have, including the family support people. Some families prepare songs to sing and this year one of our pipers studied opera so she could sing a solo.
We’ve developed great relations with the local people. One local boy, who plays the bagpipes, though not an LDS member, joins the band for a couple of performances. His family attends many of our performances and made t-shirts sporting the name, “Piper-azzis”. We perform at the First Christian Church in Carthage during their Sunday service. The parishioners love to have us come each year. The first year they were a little unsure of us, but it soon became one of their favourite services. Marching a bagpipe band down the centre aisle of a church and then performing during the Sunday service makes for an unusual, yet interesting experience.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland came to watch the Pageant performances on July 14th and 15th this year, along with 20 members of his family. He spoke during the cast meeting on the 14th. He told us how long it took his family to plan and save up enough money to be able to come to the Nauvoo Pageant. I realized that his time is not his own and even though he was on “vacation”, he stopped to speak to us. He acknowledged the commitment, both in time and money we’d made in order to serve at the pageant and pronounced it a “worthy work”.
Our Nauvoo experiences taught our family about the early Saints and their struggles, strengthened our testimonies and gave our children fun, righteous activities with a broad variety of Church members. At the beginning of the pageant, an actor representing Parley P. Pratt declares, “When you’re here, we’re here!” I know that is true. I love the great spirit our family feels in Nauvoo. The first time we attended, our children felt apprehensive, but they had such a great time that they now even save money to help pay for the trip. I am grateful that our family is able to serve this mission, even if it is unconventional. The Band has an appointed time to go to the temple each week. Mark was able to come this year and do baptisms with our girls in the temple. We see the Lord’s hand in our lives helping us serve Him. I love that my children enjoy doing the Lord’s work and feeling His Spirit. The Lord’s work takes many forms. For the Bell's, it’s bagpipes and we want to go back.