What can go wrong?

It is for the reasons below that it is important that there is good direct communication between the piper and the customer.

Some key points - based on hearsay and experience...

Issues Worst case (not addressed) For the host For the piper Comments
Tunes selection should be agreed upon in advance Wrong tune played.  Inappropriate tunes played.  Tunes desired that the bagpipe can't play.  Tunes desired that the piper can't play or plays poorly. The great highland bagpipe and relatives are not chromatic instruments and  can't play sharps and flats.  It  has only nine notes.  Thus, many tunes just can't be played on the bagpipe.   Some tunes aren't appropriate for some occasions.  If you don't know piping tunes, ask for suggestions and then approve them. If you've agreed to play it, you darn well better be able to.   When in doubt, get the music from the host and/or play it for the host in advance.  If you're over your head, recommend another player. "The King of Love" is the title of songs with different tunes in different hymnals.  The host may expect another tune by the same name.   Amazing Grace has a lot of emotional baggage. For some people, hearing it can evoke remembrances of severe grief even at the happiest of occasions.   (Note: With the advent of synthesizers, I've been presented with tapes of "pipes??" making notes and playing in keys that can't be played!)
Lack of Rehearsal The piper won't know where to be or when to play which tune.   (They may not know the location!) If not inappropriate, plan to have the piper at any rehearsal - even if only as a "family friend". Petition to attend wedding rehearsals - even if only as a "family friend".  (I've shown up at wedding rehearsals as the "photographer's assistant" and give the bride/groom my informal photos!) Don't attend the rehearsal dinner unless you know the family and would have been invited anyway.
Intentional Surprises
(with no rehearsal for the piper)
The piper is essentially blind. Be sure that the piper and officiate talk. Get the best cues you can. Surprises may be fun for the host and family, but they're usually very stressful on the piper.
Lack of Transparency Socially and musically awkward issues.  I've heard of a piper not informing the host about prominent tattoos and piercings. Be very open about the event.  Be aware that the bagpipe is very loud and cannot be played quietly. Be professional, up front and honest - in every way.  Do your best. These are usually sad situations.
Lack of Cues The piper may play at the wrong time or not play at the right time. Let the piper work directly with the priest/pastor or funeral director to set their cues.  Help get him/her in touch. Be sure to contact these folks for detailed cues. (Don't expect participants to pay attention to the tune you're playing as a cue.)

Pay attention to the event so that you don't miss any cues.   Don't talk to other people while you are on "standby".

Lack of cues looks sloppy and always reflects poorly on the piper.
No Tuning Location arranged. An bagpipe may be heard at an inopportune time or a planned surprise will be blown. A tuning area is usually needed prior to the gig.  If the piper is to be a surprise, pay special attention to this aspect.  The bagpipe cannot be played quietly and should be played every few minutes before the event in an environment similar to the performance venue.  Be sure the tuning area is unlocked. Know who is to unlock the area. Choir rooms, recreation halls, youth centers are particularly useful as well as the basement at the other end of the church!  Tune up a few blocks away for that anniversary party.
(pro)Long(ed) ceremony Tuning will begin to go out after some time if not playing.   Worse in hot sun, cold or hot balcony.  An out of tune pipe is awkward for the host and piper.  In the cold, a pipe will eventually freeze and become unplayable. If the piper is expected to play to fill the time, be aware that this is hard work.  If the piper is not playing and wants to re-tune, let them. Know your pipes. I can hold tuning for about 45 minutes if I can tune/play in the church.  I blow through the pipe while waiting to keep humidity and temperature stable in the instrument.  If this isn't enough and I'm out of tune after one selection, I'll re-tune in public.
Someone is late     Plan to arrive 45 prior to when you have to play.  Make sure you aren't late. Be flexible with others. Everyone should "plan" on a flat tire... Don't risk your reputation by booking adjacent gigs without sufficient time between.  
No Exact Timing The piper won't show. Let the piper work directly with the pastor or funeral director.  Communicate via cell phone.  (Rehearsal is a good thing whenever possible.) Be sure to contact the professionals for details. All funerals look alike.  It's possible to be ready in advance and play for the wrong cortege at a busy cemetery.
No Exact Directions The piper won't show. Plan to provide a map for weddings.  Let the funeral director do this for cemeteries in remote locations. Be SURE you know where you're going. Churches have "common names" that aren't in the phone book.  The address listed in phone books are sometimes for business offices, but are no where near the church or cemetery you're trying to find!
Emotional Stress The piper may be overwhelmed. Some outings are very stressful - even for the piper.  Be sensitive and don't add to their problems. Keep your emotions in check. At large funerals of young people, one of the piper's jobs is to provide an emotional release.
Changing Expectations Lack of ability to comply.  Lots of stress. If you want the piper at the church AND graveside, decide in advance.  Most pipers are taking time from "day jobs" to meet your needs. Be aware of what's going on and try to help. Weddings and funerals are one time events.  Get what you need without abusing the other party.
The uniform isn't right.   The uniform is quite expensive.  Ask to see if the player has what you want before hand.  Don't expect a particular tartan unless you provide it. Acquire a formal and informal outfit. Know when to wear each.   Always err on the formal side. Avoid orange drone cords and tie-dye pipe bag covers, etc.
The piper isn't as good as the host expected or was lead to believe. Poor musical presentation. Do your homework in advance.  Be honest when you're potentially over your head.  These situations are very sad as everyone loses. 
The event is off. Wasted time.  Loss of income. Contact the piper promptly.  Consider paying a consolation fee even if there is no contract. Remember that this is about their lives, not yours. If there's a contract, honor it.
Third party (Booking Agents) No direct communication between the host and piper. Once the piper is contracted, go over everything directly with the piper. Once the contract is set, go over everything directly with the host.  
Weather and Temperature Issues Out of tune instrument, frozen (unplayable) instrument or (heaven forbid!) a cracked instrument Allow the piper to adjust location to be at a reasonable temperature.  Let them tell you what will work best. Know your pipe and set it up for the weather.  Be sure the host knows that you may need to retune.  A good piper can compensate somewhat, but mother nature will always win.
Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016