May 01, 2009


Redbird Express

Is there a more physical musical instrument than the Highland bagpipe? The “fit” of the pipe is so important to the player’s ability to perform well, and I can’t think of an instrument that conforms to the body as closely as the pipes.

When the instrument is going well, with a bag that’s perfectly sized, stocks positioned the way you want them, blowpipe just right, reed-strength and vibrancy adjusted exactly, the pipes can feel like they’re part of the player’s body. I’d think that most experienced pipers have enjoyed times – rare for most – when the pipes feel like they’re not even there. And, considering how relatively heavy the instrument is, that’s remarkable.

Such a feeling I had playing in the Medley event with Spirit of Scotland at the World’s last year. It was one of those transcending, out-of-body experiences when the pipes and music seemed just right – no nerves that I can remember, just enjoying the ephemeral moment that is music’s great allure.

In a band it can actually be a dangerous thing, enjoying one’s self so much while competing. Hopefully going on autopilot (or shifting to glide as the song with one of the worst lyrics ever says: “Hey little Donna, still wanna; You said to ring you up if I was in Toranna”) doesn’t cause such daydreaming as to forget tone, but I’d think that a sudden tonal lapse would snap you out of the trance.

I wrote before about riding a fixed-gear bike, which is what I’ve done almost daily for more than three years. I really enjoy the connection with the rig, since you have to keep peddling and use resistance on the pedals to help stop. Like a good-going well-set-up pipe, a fixed gear bike almost becomes part of your body, and when the there’s a tail-wind on a warm spring day with a glittering Great Lake on one side and a shiny set of skyscrapers on the other, the effect is, like a good-going World’s medley, transcendental.


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