How about a gig story or two?
- I was asked to be a surprise and play at a 50th
wedding celebration in early June between 12:30 and 1
pm. I was given an address, which I looked up on my
mapping program and arrived about 12:10pm (i.e., early)
to scout out the location. Sure enough, there was a
huge party in progress right on the corner. I drove
about 3/4 mile away and tuned up. I drove back down
to the party, parking behind a tree. Got out the
pipes and just as bold as I could I went in. They
LOVED it. This was a great crowd. They were
into it all, especially the jigs and reels. Try as
I might, I couldn't find the guests of honor. Then
I noticed that the address on the house WASN'T the one I
was given. Yup, you guessed it! Wrong
party. Still the high school grads all loved it and
I wished them well as I scurried off the find the right
- I'm very fortunate in that I live near a National
Cemetery that still does the burials with rifle volleys
and all the ceremony. One of the absolutely coolest
things I've ever done was to play at the funeral of a
WWII Native American whose family came with their own
traditions. I usually play at the beginning as the
cortege arrives, and at the end of the service. As
usual, at the very end I played Amazing Grace twice
through. Partway through, a large drum was brought
from under a blanket and several young men started
playing on it. As I finished AG, they broke into
song and kept singing for several minutes along with the
drum. Toward the end of their performance, they
looked at me and I understood that they knew about me,
even though I didn't know about them. I brought up
the pipes, they nodded and I played one last verse as
they ended. It was such a neat service
with so many traditions.
- Brides not being ready is always an occupational
hazard and those of us doing the prelude have to do our
part. This outdoor wedding had not had a rehearsal,
so I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, so I
played on. Well, after a delay of 45 minutes of
playing in the summer heat, the bride finally showed up -
which was just as well because my lips were about d-e-a-d.
Finally, I could get a rest - which I n-e-e-d-e-d.
I knew they wanted to be piped from the scenic overlook
back to the main lodge and then to play some more to
entertain. The entire service lasted about 90
seconds and caught me completely off guard when they
introduced Mr. and Mrs.!! Somehow I piped them to the
reception area and played for a few minutes more...
- Several years ago, I was asked to play a funeral
just before Christmas. The funeral director called
to inquire if I was available. "Well, yes I
can be, but please tell me about the gig because there's
supposed to be a blizzard that day." Playing
at the church wouldn't do. The family really wanted
a piper to be at the graveside for their 92 yr. old
grandpa. He was an Irishman and loved piping, but
they had a special request. Could I play
"Christmas in Killarney" after the
burial? The picture was suddenly funny.
Christmas carols, graveside, in a blizzard. It was
everything you could hope for - and I've even got the
photo to prove it!
- I live in a cold climate and am willing to play
winter funerals. I was asked to play for the funeral of a
fire chief, but it was BITTER cold that day - about 5 F (
-15C)! I arrived and there were hundreds of public safety
people from around the area. In the course of chatting
with some of the EMTs and paramedics, the issue of what's
under the kilt was jokingly brought up. I politely
explained that the circumstances of the day had required
a compromise between carrying forth in the highland
tradition and being just plain stupid! A good laugh was
had by all.
- My wife (a highland dancer) and I were hired for
a wake. Uncle Joe was 90 years old - and was to be the
guest of honor. Upon the death of his sister, Uncle Joe
had hired a piper for the wake and had commented that it
was too bad that anyone should miss their own wake as it
was so much fun. So his family agreed that if he made it
to 90, the same age as his sister upon her passing, that
they would throw the party. The family came in carrying
the pine box with me piping in front. The set to box on a
table, a cloth, glass candelabra and photos were set on
top of the "foot" and then they opened up the
lid on the other end of the box. The oldest son looked
into the box and said a few kind words, reached into the
box and took out a beer while making the toast about
"being in heaven a'fore the dei'l knows you're
daid". Everyone roared. There were 11 more toasts to
finish off the 12 pack and then we "rocked"
that party for about 45 minutes with piping, dancing and even a bit of
singing. Uncle Joe had a blast as
did everyone else.
Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016
- At another wedding, the bridal party wasn't
ready, so I piped until about 10 past the hour when the
organist offered to fill in for a bit. I took a break and
saw the pastor - not even in robes - and asked what was
going on. We'll the bride had arrived only the day before
and the dress wasn't right. Mother and daughter had been
up all night fixing it and weren't done yet. I offered to
spell the organist and did another 15 minutes or so. At
about 40 past the hour, the organist gives me the
"finger across the throat" sign and I stopped
for an announcement that we'd all be going over to the
parish house for a bit. So I piped them over and played
off and on. At about T+90 minutes there was a rumor that
the bride was on the way and at about T+110, I piped
everyone back to the church. The wedding got going at
about T+130 or so. At the end I piped them all back to
the parish house and finished up with few more tunes... A
few weeks later I saw the pastor and he referred to this
as "the wedding with the rather long prelude".
- I visited Edinburgh in 2000 and, upon leaving the
Castle - having just had my photo taken in Captain John
MacLellan's Memorial Bench - came across a fellow busking
just down the street in a church square. He was obviously
not a strong player and was rather out of tune. I chatted
with him and offered to help at least get him into tune.
After a few minutes of this, I realized that it was
hopeless as he was a ridiculously weak player. I inquired
about his piping background. He'd been playing for five
years, and didn't have a teacher. (Stop and think about
where he was!!) Then he said that "the public
generally can't tell anyway" - and I lost it. I told
him that he had no right to abuse the public with his
lack of knowledge and skill and that, worse yet, he was
dragging down the public's opinion of piping when there
are those of us who work at it very hard to present the
instrument and its music in as professional a manner as
possible. I told him that should pack it up, go home,
find an instructor and learn how to play before making a
fool of himself and the instrument that many of us love.
The best part was that my wife caught it on film!
On of the most moving funerals that I've ever played was for a
young woman who was a dancer. The entire arts community came out for
her memorial service, which was held in recital hall in the Arts Center of a local college.
After many wonderful presentations including pieces that she'd
choreographed, the stage was filled with theatrical "fog". I
struck in - drones only for several seconds - and then came from backstage,
through the fog, piping a lament. As I reached the edge of center stage, I
faced the audience and played the opening phrase of "Amazing Grace".
emotional floodgates opened and, over my drones, I could hear the audience
burst into tears. On the next phrase I turned left and on the next
turned right. Each time the three notes brought forth a new flood of
tears. I continued to play another verse on the stage and then
continued to play as I disappeared into the fog, through the backstage, into
the workshop and stopped. Even from there (about 100 feet off stage),
the emotional impact was obvious. It's been several years now and I
STILL get comments about that performance.
- I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to play with
the Kalamazoo Symphony. On short notice, I auditioned in the afternoon, got the part
and was told that there was a rehearsal that evening. As a concert
trained clarinet player, the opportunity to play a bagpipe with the symphony
(read "group of legitimate musicians") was a BIG deal for me and I was very
excited. I went back to work, finished up a project and got ready to
leave, but couldn't find my security badge. So I called "security" to
come let me out. They were nice about it, (I later found the badge in
the bottom of a hanging file!) but I was now running a little late and had
to hurry. So I drove over to the rehearsal center and decided that
maybe I actually did have time to eat, but where was there a place to eat?
Hmmm, how about that Sub shop? BOOOM!!! I'd hit the car in front of
me. No one was hurt, but "OH $%^&, I'll be late for the rehearsal".
The police came and did the report and gave me a ticket and I went on to the
rehearsal with no dinner. But the evening wasn't done with me yet!
I got there with minutes to spare and got out the pipe and got ready to make
my entrance with the music. The entrance, by the way, was at the back
of the auditorium, up two stories on the stairway. I was to play as I
walked down the stairs onto the stage and join the orchestra. As the
moment approached, I struck in and, to my horror, blew the chanter right out
of the stock and sent it bouncing down the steps. The orchestra
stopped, everyone stared and I was so-o-o
embarrassed. Fortunately, the reed wasn't broken. OK, we'll try
it again. This time I strike in, all is fine and I'm ready to go.
At the moment that I hit the first note, they turned on the spotlights.
Now remember that I'm up two stories on a stairway 40 yards from the
orchestra, I can't hear the music because of
my drones and I can't see because of the lights in my face! When I
finally DID make it down to the stage, I got a nice round of applause from
everyone there. While that rehearsal seemed a long
evening, the actual performance was one of the most memorable 92 seconds of my
I played the 50th wedding anniversary for a wonderful couple.
Several years later, sadly, I was asked to play the wife's memorial service.
The family had several requests, which I gladly delivered. After
Amazing Grace, I waited until the family touched the coffin as a final
goodbye and played "Loch Lomond" - "me and my true love will never meet
again on the bonnie, bonnie banks...". I met the widower and expressed
my condolences. He thanked me by smiling through his tears and turned
to walk away. He made it about three paces, turned back, and in a
quavering, choked voice asked simply "Scotland the Brave?". I piped the cortege from
the cemetery to that tune.
Recently, I've begun to be a bit more open with my piobaireachd playing.
At a funeral service, I was warming up with Lament for the Children and
noticed a van drive in quite early and park near the gravesite. I
continued to play and after several minutes the van drove over to me.
I stopped and the woman expressed that she was there for the funeral, had
never heard bagpipes in person before and was amazed at how beautiful and
calming the music was. She wanted to know when/where my next concert
would be so that she could bring her family and friends...