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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jun. 3, 2009 8 years ago

Profiles of summer: Drum major steps up

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

You can’t miss Greg Gregory. Not in his Scottish kilt. Not in his wool hose stockings and towering feather bonnet.

Dressed in 20 pounds of Scottish regalia, the retired United States Navy commander and former health-care administrator has stage presence, and though he’s never measured himself dressed as a drum major, Gregory, 70, figures he’s about 7 feet tall with a feather plume strapped to his head.

His voice is as low and as full as a tuba. It echoes like a sonic boom whenever he bellows, which is often.

As drum major of the Jacobites Pipe & Drum Band, one of Gregory’s primary responsibilities is to bark the name of each song at the start of a performance and to keep the band marching in line and in tempo.

“Drum major seemed like a good fit,” Gregory says. “I’m big, rotund and have a deep voice.”

He leans back in his chair, folds his hands behind his head and laughs.

“And,” he adds, “I could afford the regalia.”

Away from the blare of bagpipes, Gregory is subdued. He’s seated beside the pool at his eastern Sarasota County home, dressed in cargo shorts and sandals, out of uniform and at ease. A water fountain trickles in the background, and an obedient springer spaniel shuffles from the kitchen to the pool, hoping to get a dog biscuit.

Recently appointed the executive director of the popular Scottish marching band, Gregory jokes about how he tried and failed to learn the pipes several years ago.

“I quickly concluded playing pipes wasn’t my strong suit,” Gregory says. “I lacked talent and discipline.”

Anyone who knows Gregory knows he doesn’t lack discipline. It was one of the reasons why Gary Reinstrom, The Jacobites’ co-founder and artistic director, asked him to be executive director.

“Greg brings a whole lot of spit and polish to the operation,” Reinstrom says. “As much as I like to say this is the way we’re going to do something, Greg puts an exclamation mark on the end of it and everyone falls right in line.”

He is earnest and straightforward, the stoic face of the Jacobites. When he’s marching, he’s as stern as a British soldier standing guard at Buckingham Palace, but, among friends, he is jovial, laidback and lighthearted.

He and his wife, Ilene, daughter of Sarasota philanthropist Beatrice Friedman, are preparing for their first trip to Scotland — a two-week cruise that will take them to Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and will pass through the British Isles, Amsterdam and Ireland.

Gregory is hoping to scope out venues for the Jacobites. The band is making long-term plans for the first time since its inception nearly seven years ago, and Gregory, who is part Irish and part Scottish, would love to take the band to Europe in the next few years.

Reinstrom, a professional French horn player and the former pipe instructor for the Riverview High School Kiltie Band, founded the Jacobites in 2002 with friend Larry Jacobs, a Sarasota attorney with Glaswegian roots.

In 2002, the men led Bradenton’s first Patriot’s Day parade on the first anniversary of Sept. 11. Since then, the band has grown from seven pipers and five drummers to 70 pipers, drummers, guitar players, singers and dancers.

“Greg has really taken the weight off Larry and me, to the point where we’re already thinking about next season,” Reinstrom says. “There’s synergy and structure.”

Both Reinstrom and Jacobs work fulltime jobs — Reinstrom owns and operates a pool business and Jacobs has a law firm. The men needed someone to organize events, court new talent and market concerts.

Gregory was a shoe-in.

A Minnesota native, Gregory grew up singing in his church choir and, later, the Navy’s Blue Jacket Choir.

When he and his wife moved to Sarasota five years ago, the thunderous tenor was itching to sing again. He joined the Jacobite chorus in 2004, after watching the band rock the sleepy Glenridge Performing Arts Center, in Palmer Ranch.

After the concert, he walked up to Reinstrom and asked him how he could get involved, and Reinstrom replied, “Show up to practice with a pulse.”

Within a month he had assumed the role of drum major and was soon leading the band in Tartan festivals, St. Patrick’s Day parades and on the stage at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Up until joining the Jacobites, he had never even seen a drum major.

Reinstrom credits Gregory with the success of last month’s Memorial Day concert at Church of the Palms. In an effort to draw a bigger crowd to this year’s performance, Gregory asked 11-year-old, crowd-pleaser Maria Wirries, winner of The Players’ 2008 Talent Explosion, to open and close the show.

“We’ve got 50 people who perform with us,” Reinstrom says. “We’ve got shining stars and quiet ladies, children and 70-year-old men. We’ve got people with huge egos and people with small egos, and Greg just works with them all. He has a comforting effect on people.”

From the pipeline

Greg Gregory on …

Wearing a feather bonnet: “My biggest problem is remembering to duck my head.”

His uniform: “It’s all wool and a killer to wear on summer days.”

His mother-in-law’s birthday: “The first time we asked the Jacobites to perform at Beatrice’s birthday party, I disappeared into the garage, changed into my uniform and came out with pipers singing ‘Scotland The Brave.’ The band has become a fixture at her birthday parties.”

His voice: “I can fill the Van Wezel without a microphone.”

The three D’s: “A drum major has three major responsibilities: drill, dress and decorum.”

The drum major who got suspended for winking during the presidential Inaugural parade: “I think it was an overreaction, but at the same time he should have stayed in character. I wouldn’t have done it.”

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