At the Celtic Festival in Evanston last month I was reminded of the lonesome sound that happened the first time I played the Scottish Bagpipes. Several years back my in-laws came home from a trip abroad with a set, and presented them with great expectation to Mary and her five brothers. We were instructed that they were for sharing but that whoever showed the most promise could have a go at learning them first. There was no shortage of enthusiasm, and three of Mary’s brother’s rushed off to the other room to assemble the pipes. Moments later they came marching into the room accompanied by a sound I can only describe as a flock of geese dying of pneumonia while attempting to escape from a butcher.
With my musical training I felt certain I could do a little better. So after an excruciating half hour during which everyone tried to offer advice (which of necessity was done very loudly as at least one or two of the brothers at a time were always having a go at the pipes), I finally suggested maybe I should have a try. After all, I’m not bad with a penny whistle and how different could it be? Besides, with my hearing loss I had always imagined I would take up the pipes when I could no longer hear well enough to sing.
So I set to it. It seemed clear to me that one of the problem they were having was that they weren’t getting the chanter going and that perhaps the drone pipes were a bit out of tune. After 15 minutes or so of adjustments I felt I was ready to give it a go. I filled the bladder with air, squeezed, and…
Well, let’s just say it was a lonesome sound. Not one that anyone stayed around to listen to, although everyone was laughing hard enough it was difficult for them to leave. Later in the day an acquaintance who played pipes came by the house and we had him look at what we felt was clearly a defective instrument that my in-laws had been bilked into buying by some unscrupulous Scotsman. He picked the pipes up, made a couple of adjustments and burst into a glorious refrain of “Scotland the Brave”. All of us clamored for an explanation of why it hadn’t worked for us. He just winked and said “Maybe you just aren’t Scotch enough”. He left us with his card in case we wanted some lessons.
Several bottles of Scotch later we still hadn’t solved the mystery. The Pipes didn’t sound too bad after he had adjusted them, but none of us had the strength to blow, squeeze and play at the same time. Finally we decided he was right, none of us had enough Scottish blood. However, we reasoned that as all of us had some Scottish ancestry, maybe if we all tried at once we’d be equal to the task. Jobs were assigned and I managed to get the job of fingering the chanter as I was the only one with experience playing a tube with holes. One of us was in charge of blowing, another in charge of squeezing, and the last person just stood by shouting out helpful advice and encouragement. Finally we were able to launch into a halting but reasonably passable rendition of “Scotland the Brave”. Marching proved complicated however, with three of us attached to the pipes at various heights and with varying levels of force. We were finally forced to stop when the breathing tube was jammed up a nostril and we all tripped over each other landing in a heap. That was a “low lonesome sound” indeed.
Other low lonesome sounds in my repertoire include the rumblings of gastrointestinal distress (sure to clear a room in a jiffy) and the sound of me attempting Tuvan throat singing (also a crowd repellent). One lonesome sound I’ve left behind is snoring (this is such a lonesome sound that had me banned to the living room at times). Apparently losing a little weight was enough to clear that one up and I’ve been less lonely since.
There’s no need to fear, the only lonesome sounds you’ll hear at our upcoming concerts are the folk and blues inspired low lonesome songs of people far from their homes and safety. We’ll steer clear of the rest. Hope to see you in the audience. Be sure to say hello! We may play a lonesome song now and then but we love the company of music lovers!
-Peter is a very poor piper, and pecks of pepper make him sneeze, but has done himself proud in the pickin' and singing world. Come see Otter Creek do their thing April 21 at the 9th and 9th concert series in Salt Lake. Full details available on the calendar tab.