One of the truly unique aspects of living on the West Coast is the ability to actually play the bagpipes outside for some events during the depths of winter. Now granted the weather isn’t perfect; this is not southern California, but for a Vancouver bagpiper who came from the east coast, it always amazes me that I can play bagpipes outdoors in January and February in Vancouver and surrounding area.
Take last week for example. I’ve already written about playing for a large funeral in North Vancouver. What amazed me almost as much as the turn-out of friends for the deceased, was the temperature outside. I was able to play for 30 minutes and my fingers did not freeze up. I can well remember (as can most bagpipers) the days of standing during annual Remembrance Day ceremonies, trying to keep fingers warm prior to the lament. The coldest experience I had was in Goose Bay, Labrador in mid-1990. The temperature outside was approximately -6, not bad for Goose Bay at that time of the year, but certainly not conducive to outdoor bagpipe playing. I don’t remember the performance, but I do remember the Legion afterwards. I was also once asked to play for a January burial in Sackville, Nova Scotia many years ago. The family asked only for one tune to be played over and over (you can imagine what “amazing” tune that was). I was also asked to provide a photo of myself afterwards for the funeral album. I was lucky that the temperature that day was slightly above freezing and the tune not difficult.
Recently, I played for the sad memorial of an E. Division Staff Sergeant who died suddenly. (See photo) Several hundred fellow RCMP
members, along with BC Ambulance and local firefighters were on hand to pay their respects to S/Sgt. Steven Stark and his family. While most of the piping was inside, the ceremony ended with some outdoor piping (Leaving Lismore). Again, while drizzling, the temperatures in late January in White Rock were much higher than this Maritime boy grew up with. Our band held its regular Tuesday night practice this week, and I think the gymnasium was actually colder than when I had played outside on the weekend.
With Super Bowl this weekend, and St. Patrick Day plans already being laid, the first vestiges of spring are appearing on the horizon. And as the crocuses start to pop their heads outdoors, soon the bagpipers of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland will begin to do the same. And before you know it, spring will once again be upon us.