Updated: Apr 19, 2019
Being in a pipe band is weird. Those of us playing the bagpipes have elected to play, arguably, the world’s most cantankerous instrument. It is affected by strength of reeds, makers of reeds, airtightness of the bag, bag material, physical endurance, mental stamina, and a whole host of other things like humidity, barometric pressure, amount of sunlight in the playing area, and probably, even, the direction from which the wind is blowing. It’s unfortunate, really.
It’s not easy being in the drum corps of a pipe band, either. Where else do you see tenor drummers who constantly risk self-imposed head trauma? Bass drummers who sometimes find it safest to march sideways? Snare drummers who hold their sticks differently than those in other disciplines?
On top of all that, have you seen our music?!? Give some bagpipe music to an otherwise classically-trained musician, and I assure you that the look of bewilderment on his/her face will inspire in you quite a sense of pride, accomplishment, and hilarity.
Being in a pipe band is weird.
Oftentimes, we don’t help ourselves out. We confuse band time for personal practice time. We don’t take appropriate opportunities to practice our instruments at home. We don’t take the time to consider the effectiveness of our at-home practice, or how it could improve.
Our entire lives are full of learning. Toddlers learn not to touch ovens because they get very hot. Primary school children learn basic arithmetic. In secondary school, you learn how to do arithmetic with letters added. In university, you learn facts, rules, and skills specific to a particular field of study. Regardless of your level in the learning process, you continually learn two things: (1) how to research and discover, and (2) how to learn.
As you commence every new undertaking, you will be taught. This gives you the base of knowledge, and mental tools, necessary to carry on your own research, discovery, and learning.
When you began your instrument, you were taught how to hold your practice chanter and/or your drumsticks. You were taught how to play the notes. You were taught how to play.
If you play bagpipes, you probably purchased, or were loaned, an instrument. You were taught how to hold it, how to cause it to make noise, and hopefully how to do these without passing out. And then you received a music book.
Being in a pipe band is weird.
At this point, you had been given the tools you needed. At this point, you could start your own research, your own discovery, your own learning. You had everything you needed to succeed – but being in a pipe band is weird.
A pipe band rehearsal sometimes looks a lot like instructional time. It looks like a time where you come in, sit down, and are taught a new tune. In some rare instances, this may be the case. However, the pipe band repertoire was set long before you joined the band’s ranks. Yes, it grows, contracts, and evolves. But, it is an established part of the band. For you to become an established part of the band, you must commit it to memory. To do this you must use your research, discovery, and learning skills. You already have them!! You’ve gained them all throughout your life! But now, you must employ them.
Being in a pipe band is weird.
In November, I attended a concert by the Raleigh Civic Symphony. As my date and I waited in line to purchase tickets, conversation with the lady ahead of us ensued. She was a violinist with the Symphony. However, due to various personal circumstances, she was unable to attend rehearsals for this concert. As she stood in line, clutching her music folder, it became obvious that she had done an abundant amount of practice with this music. It was not pristine; it was not “hot off the press.” It was well worn.
As our conversation continued, she stated that she had two main reasons for attending that night’s concert:
To support her friends and symphony family from the audience, although she could not support them with her presence and talents on-stage.To see how the Symphony was playing differently than how she had been practicing (strictly based on the music) at home.
She demonstrated several incredible traits of a good member of the ensemble. She was willing to put in her time to learn and continually practice the music at home. She showed a devotion to her group, even realizing that sometimes that means stepping back and not playing – but supporting from the audience. And, she went out of her way to prepare herself for when she would, once again, be able to join her friends on-stage.
Being in a pipe band is weird, but maybe not as weird as you would first expect. Yes, our instruments and disciplines are weird. Yes, we dress weird. Yes, we (individually and collectively) are weird. But, if we all do our part, we are no different than the Raleigh Civic Symphony, the Boston Philharmonic, the violinist in line, or world-class violinist Joshua Bell.
Members of successful musical groups learn music individually, and perform collectively. The conductor leads the musicians to perform at their best, inspiring them to achieve a common goal. Refinements occur, progress is made, and strife is inevitable. But, come performance time, everyone supports one another to realize the beauty of a sound that not a single one, by him- or herself, could make.
Do not let excuses prevent you from doing your part. Ensure that you are doing all required of you to keep your commitment to yourself, and to your band.
You have the tools for success. It is up to you to decide to use them.
Being in a pipe band is weird – but it’s really not.
About the Author: Timothy Hinson is an alumni member of the Wake & District Public Safety Pipes & Drums, USA. He has ~20 years of experience as a bagpiper, including many successful years of solo competition. He was recently upgraded to EUSPBA Amateur Grade II. He has played with our Grade III competition band, and has previously played with St. Andrews Presbyterian College Pipe Band (Laurinburg, NC, USA), Wilmington Police Department Pipes & Drums, and Cape Fear Highlanders (Wilmington, NC, USA). He is the Clan Piper for the Clan MacNeil Association of America. He and his bagpiper wife Nancy — are both weird.