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Month December 2013

Bagpipes 102- Myths, Fables and Tall Tales of the Bagpipe

Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101

First off let me say I’m hooked. The bagpipe has firmly gripped me. I love playing this instrument and love the sound of it. Almost every bagpiper I’ve ever met has the same affliction.  So let’s get on with some common questions and some hopefully insightful responses:

1. What is the instrument called? The instrument is a Bagpipe and I’m a Bagpiper. Not a Bagpipist, or Bag Piper, or even Bag Pipe player. It is proper to call me a Bagpiper or piper for short. Thanks.

Preview of new logo in the works!

Preview of new logo in the works!

2. Is it hard to learn? Most anyone with a good sense of rhythm and some musical ability can learn to play the bagpipe. A lot of bands will provide instruction for free. The absolute best time to start is young- the younger the better. One thing else you will need is a dogged determination to learn this instrument. You will start on the practice chanter first. This is very similar to a recorder that some public schools used to teach students on. You will learn basic fingering movements, the scale and some simple tunes. After 6-18 months you will be ready for the bagpipe depending on how quickly you progress. Once you are on the bagpipe it takes a while to learn how to breathe, squeeze and play notes on the chanter and coordinate it all. After a while it’s like riding a bike but it takes a while to get there. I will stress at this point it is vitally important that you get a good instructor if you want to learn. They can help you develop good habits and also eliminate a lot of frustration when you are learning. Contact me if you’d like to know more- I know some great instructors.

3. Is is it expensive? Yes it is. Both in the amount of time,travel and dollars you spend to learn the instrument. The time and miles you put on your car to go to practices and Highland Games all over the state.  The bagpipes themselves can range anywhere from $1500 and up. Reeded and fully set up more like $2000 and up. Uniform pieces are expensive too- a kilt ? $500-800; Sporran (that pouch in the front) $150-600, Shoes $125, jacket $250, Glengarry (hat) $100, etc…  If you’ve got multiple kilts you got a lot of dough tied up in your gear. I practice an average of 3+ hours a week- and that’s bare minimum. That’s every week for every year I’ve played.

4. Can you turn it down or play more softly? No. The bagpipe has one volume and its sound carries. I love the fact that it’s loud too. It’s supposed to grip you and stir you. This can’t be done at the level of a whisper. This fact is also why the bagpipes were popular in battle- the pipes could cut through the din of battle and rouse the fighting troops.

5. What are the patterns of kilt? What do they mean? Each Clan or family of Scotland has it’s own tartan or pattern. The colors and patterns are significant to that specific family. There are also national Tartans. One or those I wear is called the Pride of Scotland.

pride of scotland

The Pride of Scotland

Also each tartan has different levels of shade some are very bright- modern versions that use more colorful dyes than were available many years ago. The Hunting tartans are more subdued as well- almost the camouflage version of each tartan- muted colors to help blend into the forest. Also each tartan has a ancient style too which seeks to reproduce the original dyes and colors used by the clan. There is much more to this. If you want to know more go here:  http://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/.

That’s about all for this post. If you need any more information please contact me. Or if you need a bagpiper in Newport Beach, Los Angeles or anywhere in Southern California I’m available and if I’m not available for you,  I’ll find a competent bagpiper for you. Thanks for reading.

 

The Skirl of the Bagpipes- Why does it affect us so much?

Bagpipes 101, Uncategorized

Since a young age I’ve been affected by the sound of the bagpipe. Like many people the sound of a well tuned bagpipe, rich with harmonics and well played has stirred my innermost being. I am sure many of you have had a similar experience but for some they remain completely unaffected- why?

Firstly, I want to mention that having that deep emotional experience is really a gift and some people who don’t experience it don’t get what the fuss is about.  It’s a shame that they cannot experience it. Sound and music can affect our mood. Movie soundtracks have a profound affect on how we appreciate a movie or film, try watching a favorite movie without sound and you’ll see what I mean. Favorite music takes us back to times in our past and can trigger memories. But the bagpipe is unique in the depth of emotion it can draw out of a person.

I’ve experienced that emotion myself and have seen its effect many times when performing. The most visceral reaction I have ever witnessed was the unrestrained moan of a 14 year old autistic boy at his father’s funeral. I played Amazing Grace and He had such an outpouring of emotion that he was louder than the pipes. I almost stopped playing for fear I was upsetting him too much.

The appreciation of the bagpipe is often linked to a person’s heritage. People whose lineage can be traced back to Scotland, Ireland, England or Wales have a deep connection to the bagpipes. This deep appreciation can also work in the hearts of other people but it is not the norm.

On the more positive side I’ve played the pipes and seen tears of joy in people’s faces. I once played for a bride who, when she heard me, started jumping up and down for joy. She started to tear up and I told her her to stop- she was going to ruin her makeup! I’ve played for seniors- again with tears of joy streaming down their faces as they recount days of old when I play favorites like Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes are Smiling and Amazing Grace.

I truly believe that the love of the bagpipes is a heart issue. You are either born with it or your not. It’s not something you grow into or out of. It comes from your ancestry and your bloodline. It’s a divisive instrument as well. There usually is not too much middle ground, you either love them or you do not. For those of us who do- we are very fortunate.

Personally the biggest reason I play the bagpipes and learned to play them well was the sound and how I loved it. My goal when starting was always to play a bagpipe with rich harmonics, a soaring lovely sound that carries and moves me and other people. I am very fortunate to play this instrument and I never tire of loving every minute of the performance and I am so thankful I am able to do so for so many other people.

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Bagpipes for Parties!

Bagpipes, Events

I often get called to play at parties. They are always a great time . Here are my ideas to make a birthday party with bagpipes a smash succcess:

Who wants birthday cake? Ralph Sr. on left was a big Notre Dame fan- I played the fight song for him and also piped in the cake to Happy Birthday

Who wants birthday cake? Ralph Sr. on left was a big Notre Dame fan- I played the fight song for him and also piped in the cake to Happy Birthday

  • For birthdays I am often called to add some pizzazz to the party. Surprise birthday parties are getting more and more popular and this can work very well. It usually requires a little extra planning. What I do is stop away from the birthday site and tune and warm up the pipes and get everything ready. When I arrive on site I call someone inside that is in the know. When they are ready I strike up the bagpipes and march right in playing as they hold the door open for me. It’s a big entrance to be sure.
  • Also Happy Birthday works perfectly on the bagpipes, so I sometimes lead the cake out from the kitchen or wherever it is. When I do a birthday gig it is always my objective to play for the guest of honor but I also intersperse playing with some history of the tunes I’m playing, bagpipe 101 and answer any questions. Usually these last about one hour and the time goes fast!
  • Christmas parties are usually a great time too. Many Christmas carols work well on bagpipes- usually the older ones like Come All Ye Faithful work very well. Unfortunately Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer doesn’t work very well.
  • I’ve also played a couple of retirement parties this year as well. On these it is very important to be flexible as many people want to wish the retiree the best and schedules can get pretty loose. One tune that I always bring into a retirement party is Auld Lang Syne. In both of these parties I was a surprise as well.
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