I recently piped at a funeral in terrible weather down in St. Petersburg. It was pouring down when I left so I grabbed my rain coat to keep me dry because there isn't any protection made for pipes. I had many people ask me at the graveside if the pipes would be damaged and its a yes and no answer. Obviously if I left them sitting in the rain they would be trashed (has that happen a few years ago at a fallen soldier event when there just wasn't any covering for me.
The pipes I play are Scottish pipes made in Scotland and if you know anything about Scotland it rains... a lot! The instrument can handle rain as long as I get them dried off ASAP and keep rain from getting inside the instrument best as I can. The times I play in the rain the pipes always need to play better in general or maybe its just me. If anything it almost feels like I'm back in Scotland in the Highland piping.
Bagpipes survive a lot during war time so I figure Florida in summer when the temperate and humidity are the same number and the rain is falling hard and fast they can handle it. I bagpipe rain or shine for every event I've played and have never not piped for any reason (though I probably should have the one time). I have confidence that my Duncan Soutar pipes are make fantastically and God will protect them and myself. That is not to say they will be perfectly in tune as that is difficult enough without the rain but they will play.
A phrase I’ve heard many times and always makes me laugh a little bit. As a bagpiper in Tampa Bay I’ve played many surprising tunes for weddings and funerals like the Star Wars theme (I am serious the groom wanted us to play it and the bride wasn’t too happy when we did). Now I don’t suggest playing anything just random because its funny for such special events without being asked to. Now I’m not going to talk about just any tunes but 3 very famous ones I am asked about at almost every gig I pipe at.
That Scottish song…
It’s Scotland the Brave is the unofficial national anthem of Scotland (as well as The Flower of Scotland). Originating around the tune of the 20th century Scotland the Brave or Alba an Aigh in Gaelic, it has become very well know throughout the world. Scotland the Brave was voted 2nd to The Flower of Scotland as the unofficial national anthem in 2006 by the people of Scotland. The original lyrics are:
Hark! When the night is falling Hear, Hear! the pipes are calling, Loudly and proudly calling, down through the glen. There where the hills are sleeping, Now feel the blood a-leaping, High as the spirits of the old Highland men.
Chorus (Towering in gallant fame, Scotland my mountain hame, High may your proud standards gloriously wave, Land of my high endeavour, Land of the shining river, Land of my heart for ever, Scotland the brave.)
High in the misty Highlands, Out by the purple islands, Brave are the hearts that beat beneath Scottish skies. Wild are the winds to meet you, Staunch are the friends that greet you, Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens’ eyes.
Far off in sunlit places, Sad are the Scottish faces, Yearning to feel the kiss of sweet Scottish rain. Where tropic skies are beaming, Love sets the heart a-dreaming, Longing and dreaming for the homeland again.
What’s that one song with the Cathedral?!
One of the newer tunes that has become a staple in the piping tune book, Highland Cathedral, was written by 2 Germans for a highland games in Germany and the lyrics by a Scotsman later. A very pretty tune and one I’ve started to enjoy playing, Highland Cathedral is an amazing tune for weddings to pipe down the bridal party or bride. What about funerals? Why yes it is a great tune for funerals to greet the mourners because of the beautiful melody and flow. It isn’t a traditional tune for funerals but I have played it a lot and it is always received well in the area. Weddings and funerals on the surface are extreme opposites but if you go deeper then you will see many similarities (no, that isn’t a joke about your live ending after you are married guys). The lyrics:
There is a land far from this distant shore Where heather grows and Highland eagles soar There is a land that will live ever more Deep in my heart, my Bonnie Scotland
Though I serve so far away I still see your streams, cities and dreams I can’t wait until the day When I’ll come home once more
And so Lord keep me from the harm of war Through all its dangers and the battle’s roar Keep me safe until I’m home once more Home to my own in Bonnie Scotland
Everyone remembers this tunes name so I never have an issue with people on this. The lyrics were written by a slave trader after he survived a horrible storm and asked God to forgive him for his sins. The man who wrote it, John Newton, left this world as a loved minister and wrote many more hymns. Now the melody is taken from a negro spiritual (appropriately enough) even though many argue it was a melody from a couple celtic tunes. Now I’ve played this near every wedding I’ve done and near every funeral because this is a tune that strikes every feeling. Some have only heard this at funerals and just the thought of Amazing Grace on bagpipes makes some people cry but I challenge you to read the lyrics to see the versatility of this tune:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Shout, shout for glory,
Shout, shout aloud for glory;
Brother, sister, mourner,
All shout glory hallelujah.
Now this is the original lyrics and many people have done this tune over and over again, some great and some not so much. This is another tune I always go back and forth on because I play it so much with my bagpipes. Though I sometimes start to get tired of playing this tune I reflect on how is came around and how it affects so many people. I’ve had these tunes requested most of all, not just in Tampa Bay or Sarasota but also out towards Lakeland and of course Scotland! There isn’t anything like playing Amazing Grace went its 40ish degrees with 30-40 mph winds and a slight drizzle of rain… makes it perfect!
Originating in Scotland around the 14th Century the Great Highland Bagpipe could of been heard. The only instrument to be labeled an instrument of war (per the British government in the mid 1700s) it can inspire every emotion possible, from fear to love and from joy to sorrow. The bagpipe has always had a great variety in the lives of people and has been a staple in the Scottish military for centuries as well as weddings. No event is complete in the Scottish culture without bagpipes as the musical entertainment and it seems that they have a piper at any event possible. Now I’m going to be more specifically talking about bagpipes in modern weddings but still keeping the history of your culture your wedding.
I have been piping for about 9 years now but have been playing some kind of instrument for 15 years now. I have been born and raised in Dunedin, Florida which was founded by 2 Scotsmen and still cherishes those roots! Growing up here you are immersed in this culture like it or not and it is very true that you either love or hate bagpipes. As you might can guess I love the music and the history behind such an amazing instrument! Of the gigs I do weddings by far as are what I love to play at and to add a unique addition to with my pipes. I’ve played such a variety of weddings you can really add pipes to any kind of wedding and though I love to play the traditional kind of weddings where everyone is kilted and the bride and groom actually know the tunes they want I do like the way its been added to modern style weddings and giving me the option to play what I want would fit best for them. Of course bagpipes isn’t something every wedding has like a DJ but nothing makes an impact like it! Though you might think there aren’t may of us around you would be surprised but few are crazy enough to do it fulltime haha. This is my passion and God has blessed me with this time and a amazing wife that I can follow the dream.
What makes one piper a better choice than another? Of course ability and the variety of tunes available are the easy answers. I list my standard tunes on my website, http://www.JoyfulNoiseBagpiping.com but I can learn a tune with enough time. You also want to see about reviews and testimonials because anyone can make a website now adays and doesn’t have the same impact anymore. Something else that might help is to ask what make bagpipe and chanter they will use not what the piper has. I know pipers with amazing pipes they don’t use because they don’t want them damaged and gig with junk. As a bagpiper in the Tampa Bay area I use either a poly or blackwood chanter depending on the environment and always use my Duncan Soutar of St Andrews blackwood pipes which I love and proudly endorse! In my opinion there are 2 kinds of pipers today, the traditionalist who play standard aires, marches, hymns as well as jigs, reels and strathspeys when appropriate. Then there are the showmen modern pipers who play anything fast no matter if it is a good time for it and wouldn’t play an aire if their life depended on it. I am firmly a traditionalist and I love playing those tunes. I’d much rather play and listen to a piper play beautiful melodic tunes that have emotion than someone going off and playing 250bpm.
All that being said the bagpipe is an instrument all its own that has a culture and tradition I feel no other instrument has. An instrument that has struck fear into the British in the days of Sir William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce to the Germans in WWI and WWII and the terrorist today in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the same turn they are used to pay respects to a fallen soldier or a loved one then to celebrate a marriage! Many cultures have had some form of bagpipe for centuries and are even mentioned in the most printed, longest running best seller, the Holy Bible (Daniel 3:15 – Now if you are ready, at the time you hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, the lyre, harp, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music… LITV). So if you think that bagpipes are too limited for your wedding think again and know that is will add something unique you will always remember!