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Funerals/Memorials

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.

What’s Worn Under the Kilt?

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

Uh yes…. The eventual question. The question everyone wants to know the answer to but some are too shy to ask.

 

There are many different ways to answer this question. My step-father, who was a Highland from Dunoon, Scotland when asked “What’s worn under the kilt?” would respond “Nothing, it’s all in perfect working order”. That’s a pretty clever answer to a question that is quite delicate.

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For every bagpiper or Scotsman it really comes down to a preference. Some things entering the debate on whether to or not to are:

 

  • Am I a strict traditionalist? Should I go as the lads did in the movie Braveheart due to some allegiance to practices of a bygone era? This is probably more likely than most people think as we are playing tunes that were written centuries ago…
  • Weather. It is hot, humid or chilly out. You can figure out the implications of this debate.  Or is it windy? Wind can be very revealing. Haha.
  • Are there any ladders or stairs to be climbed during the outing? I know in one instance I had to climb up into the pilot’s area at the top of a boat and the ladder were pretty much vertical. Lucky I was prepared. 😉
  • Wool. Is it itchy? It can be. The comfort factor might weigh in on this one.
  • Health implications. Years ago I read somewhere that briefs were bad for men. So it might be for health that a man goes without.

 

I know I’ve faced this question many times. Most men are too embarrassed to ask so the majority of the time I am asked by women. And I’m more often asked on St. Patrick’s Day than at any other time of the year. I guess green beer emboldens even the most timid souls.  I usually refrain from answering or if I do I tell them you’re going to have to ask my wife…. 🙂

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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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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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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