The number of funerals I’ve played for in the past decade I can number on one hand. When the mother of a good friend died and he asked me if I would add some piping to the memorial I of course said yes.
It’s an honour to be part of an important ceremony connected with a friend or family-member. At least in Toronto, the pipes seem to be an essential aspect of weddings and funerals, memorial services and awards ceremonies. I haven’t met anyone here who does not just like, but love the pipes. At least that’s what they say to me.
But playing yesterday I found to be as pressure-packed as a pipe band competition, when you want to do well for others. I always found solo competitions less stressful than band contests: the only person you can let down is yourself in the solos. I couldn’t help thinking that making a mess of my friend’s mother’s memorial service would let everyone down.
Even though it was just “The Mist Covered Mountains” at the beginning and “Lochanside” at the end, insane thoughts ran through my head: what if the bag failed? What if a reed drops in the bag? What if the chanter falls out? None of those things has ever happened to me, but I didn’t want to wreck one of my friend and his family’s biggest life-experiences.
Ian Whitelaw wrote a great article a few years ago in the print Piper & Drummer about preparing for a performance. I felt a bit sorry for the Michigan piper who played at the late-President Gerald Ford’s funeral. I’m sure he’s better than the insufferable sounds that came from his frozen instrument, but it served as a lesson for all pipers: have a back-up plan, and prepare for the worst.
The service that I played for went fine, thankfully, and I was happy that the pipes could once again make a positive mark on a life-long memory for many.
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