Picking Up the Bagpipe Banner

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you:  I am here to live out loud.”

Emile Zola


Novelist Emile Zola wasn’t thinking about bagpipes in Seattle with that thought.  If you think about it, Mark Twain (who lived about the same time) had a thought that he and Zola might have shook hands with, “The human race is a race of cowards, and I am not only marching in that procession, but I’m carrying a Banner.”

I don’t know if it takes Twain’s “courage”, or if it just takes a step of human forcefulness to live “out loud”.  But Bagpipers, along with musicians of all types, have to do it all the time.  We need to.  If we don’t, we wont get to follow thru with what we’re here to obviously do.

Bagpipers live “out loud” with a unique instrumental voice.  It needs to be instantly, and I would say cared for so it can instinctually, be able to produce a consistent, harmonious musical quality — in nearly any physical environment.  Whether you’re on the roof of the Space Needle, or processing astronauts, or an archbishop, or a couple to their wedding (at sea level or a mile up), leading university faculty with students a mile to ritualize opening studies for the year.  Or, as documented in my next blog post —  taking a 99 years young Grandmother out the door for some piping on her birthday (over 30 years time).

All this, with an instrument that is just made technologically out of some delicate ingredients (I’ve never been let down by my instrument for a performance — I love the maintenance and prep of my instruments — it’s a great challenge and keeps my applied science and creativity thriving).  Let’s look at the ingredients of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and see where my Minor in Engineering Physics and skill of intuitive notion comes in….

  • Number of reeds: 4
  • Airtight valve that gets wet: 1
  • Highland Bagpipe structure:  wood combined with various bits of twine & wax.
  • Age of the Highland Bagpipe:  In my case, one is 128 yrs old and the other about 118 yrs old.
  • Highland Bagpipe maker alive to answer questions?  Not in my case.
  • Primary resonate chamber:  1 sheepskin bag, made in Glasgow, replaced every three years.
  • Primary energy to produce music with the Highland Bagpipe:  Human-pressurized air, with moisture controlled.
  • Number of places air can leak:  Infinite.
  • Finally, the Great Highland Bagpipe is in tune with:  Itself, if all the above are maintained to a high standard.

Not to bad over all.  Throw in wind, rain, sun, cold, snow, hail — prep for that and your into a fair bit of musicality while living “Out Loud”!


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