May 18, 2010

Been there

All uphill from here.We all have to start somewhere, and this week I’ve been carried back to my earliest days as a piper as I’ve been going through and scanning family photos that my dad left behind. I’ve actually taken a full 10 days of vacation to work through them, since he was a keen amateur photographer and, perhaps because he was a professor of history and wanted to keep a record of things for history’s sake, he pretty much took a photo of everything. Everything.

He missed the digital photography age, and used only film. But he never used print film; strictly slide film, and would pick out the best to have enlarged. He used slide photography like we use digital – no big deal if you mess up the shot. The result is about 40 years of slides, numbering I think about 15,000 images. That’s a lot scanning, but it’s kind of now or never.

Hell? Hello? Is this thing on?But here are a few shots of my first years on the pipes, circa 1976-’77. I think the one of me with the natty plaid shirt on is the very day that my new R.G. Hardie pipes arrived directly from Glasgow. I remember the bag loosely tied to the stocks, and made of cowhide as thick and tough as beef jerky. My dad was upset that they sent it with the wrong tartan bag cover – MacFarlane, not some family sett.

My dad, ever the promoter of his kids, used to volunteer me for various piping performances. I’m not sure exactly what these two events were, but see the people in the one of me playing in the parking lot. Next stop: The Argyllshire Gathering.They are almost totally oblivious to the noise going on around them, even the gents merrily having a conversation within a few feet of me. Note the 1970s pimp-chic with the guy with hat. Maybe they’re hoping that, if they ignore it, it will go away. Maybe it’s an event for the hearing impaired.

The one with the guy in the clever robin’s-egg-blue suit is a wonder. It looks like the Jim Jones Cult needed an official piper to lead the members to something. I don’t remember any Let's play ball instead . . .Kool-Aid being served, thank goodness.

The other is perhaps the first day of spring warm enough for me to regale the neighbors (American spelling, since it was in the USA) with my sight-reading stop/start tunage. I’m wearing the St. Louis Cardinals’ retro 1876 cap in honor (US) of the 100th anniversary of the National League, brown corduroys and yet another tartan shirt. That’s my friend Nathaniel Heidenheimer in the Giants’ cap probably a bit freaked out by the scene: me squalling away on the imitation-ivory-grinding Hardies; my dad snapping away at his own hobby; Nathaniel frozen, wondering where to look.

But we all start somewhere and I think we’ve all been there. The instrument begins as a lark, progresses into obsession, then, if you’re lucky, transforms into a passion. We persevere.


  1. Andrew:

    This stuff is delightful. You need to do more of this, (i.e. the pics….. even if it involves only your blue haired blonde eyed self in the pics. (see Albee….Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for reference). Much fun to see these, and you’re right, we all started somewhere and here we are, these decades later, fully loving this unusual art/pastime/avocation.

    I have played with/competed against some 3 generations of pipers (and you are among that crowd) and it gives me so much pleasure to see what I have witnessed in real life and time,
    brought to me from the past. This should be a series. When I was “coming through” nothing like P|D existed so this kind of archival stuff got lost….some guy had a photo in the basement of someone doing something and we all gawked at Capt. John or John D. or whoever, and that was your lot. You need to bring us up to speed with stuff about the greats from an earlier era. We all may think that the Pipe Band World starts and ends with Richard Parkes, and that the greatest MSR player is Alasdair Gillies…..but there is a huge history behind all of these great folks, and we should learn about that too.

    Piping and Pipe Bands just now are so much about the last performance…..there’s a whole well of history we should be plumbing to get to the current “truth”….whatever the hell that is.
    I’m behind anything you want to do in this area….I’ll even tell embarrasing stories about myself….within limits, which I alone will define, to advance the conversation.

    Bill Livingstone

  2. Best Cardinals hat ever! I still occasionally wear the Pirates retro caps (black or gold, I have both) to the derisive remarks of the ignorant.

    Good pix!



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