July 04, 2005

Bagpipes ain’t noise pollution?

During my first few years of playing the Highland pipes, I would practice the full instrument in my backyard, serenading neighbours and total strangers with what had to sound like what the late John D. Burgess would refer to as screaming banshees.

It continued until a neighbour called the police, who showed up and told me to cease and desist. (My parents, being natural PR types, called the local paper a few days later and there was a story about the incident.)

I’m reminded of this because Steven Tripp, a very good piper here in Toronto, writes saying that he is struggling for practice space. He goes to the very famous Mount Pleasant cemetery and has a tune among the graves. But he says that, despite constantly changing locations, he’s been told to stop on eight occasions now by the Toronto Police (which ironically has supported a pipe band for almost a century, and Steven even played with it for a time). Steve says that someone recently threatened to have him banned outright from even entering the cemetery, alive or dead.

Practicing outdoors is an interesting dilemma. On one hand, a player of Steven’s calibre is probably a treat to the thousands of people who can hear him, but one or two grumps with nothing better to do call the police. They’d call the police if Pavarotti were practicing.

On the other hand, I don’t like it when music is foisted on me, whether it’s drum-and-bass played at 11 from a pimped-out Honda Civic or muzak at a dentist’s office. When I practice it’s indoors with the windows closed. When I lived in an apartment I asked a local school if I could use one of its classrooms in the evenings and they kindly obliged.

Practicing outside in a big city is a quandary for pipers and drummers. I think it should be avoided, but others may see it differently.





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