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Events

You get what you pay for ….

Tags: Bagpipes, Events, Funerals/Memorials, Weddings

 

We’ve all heard this old adage but is it true? I’ve been bagpiping for over 20 years and been doing professional gigs for a number of years as well and this adage was proved true for me in a resounding way just last week.

I was approached by a vendor to play in a popular parade here in So Cal. She requested two pipers to escort their float and I brought another bagpiper who I know is competent. He and I arrive, and we are tuned very closely, looking smart and ready to play. Suddenly another piper comes forward and indicates that he has been hired to play too.

Surprise, surprise!! This is not the first time this has happened to me. It presents some issues as you now have to tune two pipes together that may be significantly different but not impossible- that is until this parade.

The bagpiper in question is a low baller. He consistently bids at the bottom end of the spectrum and oftentimes undercuts other bagpipers to get gigs. His bagpipe sounded embarrassingly bad. I would never play such an instrument. He was out of shape and couldn’t maintain the bag pressure to give the bagpipe that nice hum you hear- instead the tone was up and down and the chanter screeched and chirped badly. To complete the parade, we shut off all his drones and put him between us other two so hopefully the audience could not hear his pipe.

To add insult to injury his appearance was farcical. He was a mish mash of different styles. A chain mail tie, homemade bag cover for pipes, pockets on his kilt, a white kilt with pockets and horizontal chains. I thought he looked like a buffoon. Embarrassing to say the least.

So after some reflection I came to a couple of conclusions:

  • Gig sites offering bagpipers and other performers do not verify any performers to be competent, it is completely buyer beware. So do your homework- check their video, music, and look at reviews and make sure reviews are current.
  • I always wondered how this piper could charge so little to perform- the answer is that he devotes zero time to his craft. He doesn’t maintain his pipe or himself and does the client a great disservice. In truth he should not be bagpiping for money.
  • Lastly this bagpiper destroys the marketplace. He perpetuates the stereotype of a screeching bagpipe played poorly and he erodes consumer confidence and is a poor representation of a bagpiper. Also in all honesty, he ticks me off because he does not honor the tradition of the bagpipe or value the great sound and he is a poor reflection of all of us that do.
  • So the old adage is true in the case, you do really do get what you pay for.

Three Ways to Tell the Value of a Bagpiper

Tags: Bagpipes, Events, Funerals/Memorials, Weddings

Bagpiping has allowed me to experience things I never would have and to meet a wide range of people in a lot of very different situations. I’ve seen and experienced the joy of a wedding ceremony and the grief of a funeral and all emotions in between.

Considerations

So what is the value of a bagpiper? What is he or she worth? There are three main considerations.

  1. First how far did the bagpiper travel and how long to dress, tune and perform? Like a lawyer a bagpiper can base their value on the time spent on completing the performance.
  2. One can also look at the value of equipment and maintenance. Bagpipes typically run $1200 and up. Uniform items probably $1500 and up. Some items run almost up to $10,000.
  3. Thirdly the value of something is what someone is willing to pay for it.  Are you a premier bagpiper with the experience to get the best out of the instrument? Can the bagpiper deliver when it really counts- like playing newlyweds out of the church? Or striking in the pipes in front of hundreds of mourners at a funeral without a squawk or bad note? Sometimes bagpiping is not for the faint of heart. I once had to play in front of 115,000 people. Talk about pressure! Great bagpipers deliver at the big moments. It’s one of the reasons they command a higher price. Bagpipers can also place value on the time they dedicate to their craft or how many years they have spent learning the instrument. I spend a minimum of one half hour pretty much everyday working on my craft and very often more time than that.

 

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My experience

I’ve had clients tell me I’m too expensive. They go out and find a kid or an amateur piper to do the job. My service was not worth it to the client; they didn’t really value my service enough. But when the big moment comes do you want a hack piper that can’t play the tunes, looks shabby or doesn’t know how to tune their instrument? For me that’s a very bad decision but I’m not the client. Often when it comes to bagpiping at gigs there is only one chance to get it right. Clients won’t remember how much they saved on a bad bagpiper but they’ll remember the disappointing performance they heard. On the other hand if the performance is great, the pipes are singing and you’ve got a pro playing you will never forget it. That’s real value- a treasured memory.

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Bagpipes are for Weddings !

Tags: , Bagpipes, Events, Weddings

Weddings are a grand time. The bride’s looking her absolutely best, the groom is looking spiffy and all the guests are there for a celebration. I am always happy to play for weddings. Bagpipes make a grand addition to a wedding. A wedding is about many things but it is also about emotion.

 

Strong emotion makes an event memorable. When the pipes strike in and everyone turns to see the bride and her father, that’s an emotional event. Real memories, real emotions. That’s what makes that moment and the bagpipe memorable. People connect to the sound and image with their insides. It’s a visceral experience. It gets to them and afterward that emotion makes that event stand out. It still gets to me and I’m the performer. J

 

Music moves us emotionally. Ever turn the sound off on a favorite movie? Without that soundtrack the visual experience and dialogue just don’t have the same effect. Sound moves us. That sweeping scene in The Titanic with Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet would never be the same without that dramatic tune playing in the background.

 

I’ve seen many people weep when I play the pipes as emotion just comes forth. At a wedding certainly tears of joy occur but also bittersweet tears as a young bride and groom leave their family to cleave to one another. It’s my honor to attend many of these ceremonies and bring that special element to a wedding that makes it all the more special and memorable.Fletcher wedding IV

St. Paddy’s Day and Bagpipers- Facts and Rants from a Piper

Tags: , Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101, Events, History, Uncategorized

St. Patrick’s or St. Paddy’s Day is named after the patron saint of Ireland who lived in the 5th century in Ireland. He died on March 17 and that is why every St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on that exact day.

 

St. Patrick’s is a day of celebrating all things Irish and bagpipes are one of those things. It seems everyone I meet that day on my travels is Irish or is an adopted son or daughter or Ireland. They’re all wearing green, dancing and generally having a great time.

 

This one day of the year is the busiest for almost all bagpipers I know. I usually start bagpiping at noon and some years I have been piping as late as 2am. It’s quite a workout but it’s worth it.

Irish Pub

Irish Pub

I play for the clients and their guests. I get paid well but what I really like is playing for the crowds. They are usually very appreciative. Some have never heard a bagpipe before. Most pubs I play at are the real deal. Many bars call themselves Irish but they are not interested in doing anything Irish other than selling green beer. Most of the pubs I play at do a great job keeping up with Irish traditions by serving Irish food, drinks and provide live entertainment. Contact me if you want to know where to go.

About tipping- some people want to tip me and I appreciate all that they give me. If you stop a piper and request a tune then you should tip him or her. Don’t tip your piper with a drink. Pay them. If they want a drink or something to eat they’ll buy their own with the cash. It’s really hard for me to collect tips in most cases. I’m kinda busy at the time and both hands are on the instrument. If you want to tip me please wait until I’m finished playing or give the tip to the lady that accompanies me- if she’s there. Please be courteous to her and me.

 

Speaking of courtesy:

  • Don’t ask the bagpiper what’s under the kilt. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that…
  • When posing for photos please don’t disrespect the bagpiper or the instrument. Just smile. Isn’t that enough?
  • Never touch the pipes! Bagpipers have invested a lot of time and moeny in that instrument and don’t want it to be damaged. Never touch the pipes!

 

For the most part St. Patrick’s Day is a great time. I usually take about a day or two to recover. It’s quite an experience from this side of the pipes and every year it gets better and better.

 

Some photos of me playing for St. Patrick’s Day:

  • St. Patrick’s Day fun at Wild Goose with Bagpiper Stephen

  • Bagpiper Riverside St. Patty’s day

  • Bagpiper private party

  • Irish Bagpiper St. Paddy’s Day

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

Tags: Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101, Events, History, Uncategorized

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?

Tags: Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101, Events, Funerals/Memorials, History, Uncategorized, Weddings

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!

Tags: Bagpipes, Events, History, Uncategorized, Weddings

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.
  • Bagpiper and Mom sm Read More

Bagpipe Music for Weddings

Tags: Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101, Events, History, Uncategorized, Weddings

I’ve played bagpipes at many weddings and there are some pointers and ideas I’d like to share:

Ryan and Emily

  • I believe that a wedding is primarily about the bride. It’s her big day. Of course the groom is also very important but many times the groom doesn’t have quite the same ideas and the same clarity that a bride will have. It’s my job as the bagpiper to bring those wishes/dreams to life.
  • When to perform:  I’ve been asked to play beforehand, as guests arrive, I’ve preceded the bride and father up the aisle and also played during the recessional escorting the new married couple out of the service. Many times I’ve appeared as a surprise for either the bride, groom or guests. This requires some preplanning but this has always worked very well in my experience.
  • Entrance: one other option is also to have the bagpiper lead the bride and groom into the reception. This works very well as a grand entrance.
  • Dress: if the wedding has Scottish dress I’ve also been called upon to guide the groomsmen on how to wear the kilt properly and where each of the accessories goes. 🙂Bagpipe204 Read More

Playing Bagpipes at a Funeral

Tags: , Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101, Events, Funerals/Memorials, History, Uncategorized

This is one of the most frequent requests I get as a Bagpiper. Some history- most people are not aware that in ancient times some Scots believed that the soul would not ascend to heaven or be released with out a bagpiper present to play. The music would release the soul from the earthly body. Bottom line if you didn’t have a bagpiper at the funeral you were in big trouble.

The bagpipes were considered by the English to be an instrument of war because of their effect on the morale of people who were fighting against the English for freedom from oppression. At some point the bagpipes became closely associated with the troops and this has carried over to servicemen and women in the Police and Fire services as well as all branches of the military.  That is why bagpipes are so common in military funerals. I recently did a Funeral at Riverside Military Cemetery for a highly decorated Marine- this photo shows the honors that were given to this man upon his death:

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A Southern California Ranch Wedding

Tags: Bagpipes, Bagpipes 101, Events, History, Uncategorized, Weddings

RyanEmily-495It was my great pleasure to play for Ryan and Emily on their wedding day. They had some specific requests for music. Some traditional Irish and Scottish tunes as well as one not traditional at all. They are both big Beatles fans and they requested that I play “Here Comes the Sun” for them as they walked down the aisle for the first time as man and wife. Now not all songs can be adapted to the bagpipes but I told them I would try.

Later I was able to Skype with them and play some of the tunes they had selected for the wedding as they were in Manhattan preparing for the wedding in So Cal. This helped tremendously and they were very happy I was able to figure out their requested Beatles tune on the pipes.

On the big day the venue was decorated and looked wonderful. I was able to perform for them and everything went perfectly- at least from my perspective. Check out the review of the wedding at 100 Layer Cake.

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