It’s no fun when you are booked to play at a wedding ceremony – and you’re the only one who shows up. It happens and it stinks after taking the time out of your day, driving to a venue and getting the pipes tuned and ready to play. But flakey brides, uptight mother-in-laws, poor directions, traffic jams and disorganized events are all part of the fabric when you’re a bagpiper in any city.
However, there are lighter moments that you can look back on and laugh.
Like the time I played at a Catholic funeral mass in North Vancouver a few years ago. The deceased was, according to the funeral director, the black sheep of the family. He attended Mass weekly (God forbid!), lived by himself and didn’t associate much with his family – most of whom showed up for his funeral, likely because their uncle had some money squirrelled away somewhere. From the looks of it, most of the family had never darkened the door of a church in their life. They looked like the kind of people you would see in a “Real wives of LA” reality show, with too much make-up, fake body parts and high heels, and by the look of their black clothing, took their funeral fashion sense from The Godfather or another American Mafia film. They had no idea where to go, what to do or when to kneel or stand-up during the funeral Mass. They did manage to stay off their cell phones throughout the Mass, but not talking to each other was simply too much to ask.
This was obviously a family who had never been near a bagpiper in their life, and if left to them, would not have hired me to perform. Unfortunately, Old Uncle Black Sheep had expressly asked in his will for a piper at his funeral, and again at his committal (burial). The family member I was dealing with paid me half for the funeral and said she would call when it came time for the committal. Well, Old Uncle Blackie must be getting pretty ripe because I never heard back from the family – who stiffed me out of half my fee. I guess they figured the old uncle would never know, and they got to spend the money on more important things – like clothes or a visit to a plastic surgeon.
The bad experiences, however, are far outweighed by the lovely people and beautiful places I have been fortunate enough to play in. Playing for families at weddings and family events, birthday parties and even funerals can be a moving and humbling experience. Families gathered together to say goodbye to a loved one who has been an influential part of their lives since birth or a steadying influence through two and three generations. I’ve played for widows and widowers who met the love of their life while young, and through good times and bad, stayed together raising a family and at the end, left our world a better place. These were not the high profile entrepreneurs or individuals who achieved great heights in life, but simple folk who built a family structure that, in my opinion, rivals the greatest enterprises of our times and is the foundation of our civil society. These families mourn their loss, but at the same time celebrate the lives and contribution of their parents and/or grandparents who have shown us how to live a good life and be a better person. As a piper, I steal glimpses into the lives of strangers as I participate in final farewells. It’s something I always remember when I play the lament – for the departed and for the family who must now move forward into a new day.