Have you asked yourself this question or thought someone was crazy for asking this question? Though it might sound like an opening line for a cheesy joke it is a good questions I get off and on piping weddings, public concerts, memorials and other event. It always comes to 3 questions for the right answer, inside or outside, drummer or drummers as well, and budget.
Inside or Outside?
This is a huge factor and that is why it is the first to address where the location is. Piping inside amplifies the sound and even large churches and event centers one bagpiper fills it up. I have done multiple pipers and drummers indoors and I will only do that as an option with big building, not the local Elks hall. It's a courtesy to the musicians and the patrons and I normally want to be hired again and not be ran out of the building for making everyone deaf. Outside the sound dissipates greatly and that is when multiple musicians would be beneficial but not always necessary. I've played beach weddings, and they always have crazy wind going and I've never had anyone not hear me lol. A bonus to several bagpipers that play well together is the great effect of all that sound and the opportunity of harmonies in the music.
Drummer(s) as well?
Just like having several pipers, having drummer(s) can be a great effect to add to the event. The standard math I use is in most settings 1 piper and 1 drummer is better than 2 pipers (not always the case like funerals) and you can have just 1 drummer for up to 4 pipers in my opinion before it gets very lost in the mix. Then bigger and bigger you add more a bass drummer, more snare drummers and for the big events and flare tenor drummers. With all those musicians we are talking a big group of minimum of a dozen. There are many other things to do but I haven't had to book a full pipe band... yet.
Budget is always an issue when talking 1 piper or a full band and I'd like to share a few truthful secrets if you'd like to read. Booking pipers and drummer is not like going to Sam's Club and the more you get the better the deal. Every musician spends years working on the craft and thousands on their instruments (except drummers and spend hundreds on sticks), thousands and thousands of hours practicing and studying and subjecting family and friends to the horrors of listening to the learning of the instrument. I always do my best to be fair with cost but I need to make a living and eat once in a while.
As one might imagine the bagpipes are a temperamental instrument that have to rhyme nor reason to there action at times. In Florida with everything from high humidity, scorching temperatures, hurricanes, sun showers and yes snow storms (the pan handle) bagpipes can act up. Thankfully I do not live in the pan handle so no snow to worry about but everything else is enough. With modern technology the live of a bagpiper is easier for tuning and general performance but there will always be variables in the instrument is you care about good tune. They make synthetic bagpipes, chanters and all reeds but I will never go to the way of the synthetic chanter reed.
I have a challenge at every event to be in tune and everything to stay in tune. There are sometimes when I know the instrument will go out of tune because of some variables (playing from inside to outside, long periods of the instrument sitting and cooling down, or the worse in my opinion when someone bumps into them and something moves). As a avid player in Florida I do a lot of preventative measures and maintenance to keep things tight and performing well as well as playing on my own time to keep it all set well. I couldn't imagine the amount of time I put into just one wedding with practice, maintenance (instrument and uniform), studying new tunes to add to the repertoire and working to make me a greater musician.
For the people who may not know add to the fact the instrument is not cheap and you can't just go into Guitar Center or Sam Ash and pick one up for $99.99 like a guitar. My set of Duncan Soutar pipes are handmade by Duncan Soutar himself in Scotland and all my chanters and reeds are made in Scotland as well because those are the makers I enjoy and are familiar with. There are many great American and Canadian makers just I prefer what I prefer. I will not get into the cost of them but lets say I have spent less when buying a car. This is my joy and I get to ministry though it which is a great blessing! So when you go to hire your next piper (hopefully me :) ) remember the reason live music costs more than a DJ is because the musicians has spent their life learning and growing into a professional musician. It is a special skill and effect that cannot be reproduced and should be respected.
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!