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 might have snickered about bagpipes in Seattle after his thought above.  And Mark Twain (who lived about the same time) had a thought that he and Zola might have agreed 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, and artists of all types — need to prepare to live out loud.

Bagpipers live “out loud” with a unique instrumental voice (we all sound a little different from each other — pipes in unison playing means months of separate prep beyond being a soloist).  It needs to an instantly, instinctually, and consistently, harmonious musical sound — in any physical environment.  Whether you’re on the roof of the Space Needle, or processing an archbishop, astronauts, or a couple to their wedding (at sea level or a mile up); or university faculty with students a mile to ritualize opening studies for the year.  Or, as documented in another blog post —  taking a 99 years young Grandmother out the door for some piping on her birthday (when she’s 80, 90, then 99).

All this, with an instrument that’s made out of some technologically delicate ingredients.  [I’ve never been let down by my instruments for a performance — I love the maintenance prep of my instruments of all my pipes, a great application for my creativity and intuitive notion).  Let’s look at the ingredients of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and see where my Minor in Engineering Physics comes in daily….

  • Number of reeds: 4
  • Airtight valve that gets wet: 1
  • Highland Bagpipe structure:  tubes of air encased in wood, held with twine & wax.
  • Age of the Highland Bagpipe:  For me, daily driver is 130 yrs old, Grandad’s is 118 yrs old, bellows pipes are young at 10-20 years.
  • Highland Bagpipe maker around to answer questions?  No – perhaps I should have a séance.
  • Primary resonate chamber:  1 sheepskin bag, made in Glasgow, replaced every three years.
  • Primary energy to produce music with the Highland Bagpipe:  air from my lungs, with moisture controlled.
  • Opportunity for air leaks:  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, Pipers, and you’re ready to musicality live “Out Loud”!


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