I suppose it is fair at this point to call me what I am…a groupie. It was completely unintentional and, frankly, I’m not sure I ever really chose it. It just happened. Like when you enjoy a nice family dinner until you look up from the last bite and notice everyone else is gone, leaving you with their dishes.
That’s about how I got sucked in to the world of bagpipes. I looked up and all of a sudden, I was hitting the bars on St. Patrick’s Day, getting back into the habit of attending band concerts, and even traveling to Canada for parades. My sister is, of course, the one to blame.
It started out reasonably enough, she would go to practices and I would go to a concert here, a parade there and then it was the bars all day on St. Patrick’s Day, followed by more parades, followed by an open house, followed by even more parades. Things only got more interesting when she started bouncing between two bands, increasing her (and by extension my) commitment two-fold. Only now, half of the gigs were eight hours away and you needed a passport to get in. But, I finally made the sacrifice (and the eight hour drive) up to Canada to support her double life.
I had met plenty of other pipers and drummers (a mostly older crowd) in her Omaha band. All lovely people, they usually had some interesting stories to tell, but I would spend a maximum of three hours with them at at time. In Canada, some of the band members were gracious enough to host us, which meant I was thrown head-first into full time pipe band life. I had many band friends in college, so I thought I was prepared.
I was wrong.
First thing to know about me: I’m like a cat – I love social interaction, but I love social interaction when I seek it out. Almost every member of the band and (with members representing virtually every age group from 12 to 60), however, was extremely outgoing. The energy that resonated off of each one of them was absorbed and then expelled by the person next to them. If you wired them all up like potatoes, you could power a house for a year. At first, I did not understand what kept them all from exploding. And then I saw them at practice.
The youth that were once bouncing off the walls now moved only with the beat. The mouths that never stopped pouring out story after story were wrapped firmly around blowpipes or frowned in concentration as each stroke hit the drum. With the precision of an army, they had all fallen in line, eager to earn his or her place within the tune. All of that energy flowed through them, channeled by their arms, powering their instruments. The ancient traditions preserved inside the tunes once again came to life in the molecules that hummed around me.
I was a little worried at the end of the all-day practice that they would not have it in them to even crawl into bed, but once properly fed and watered, they perked right back up again. This is where I learned what makes the best pipe bands truly the best – the support staff (and the area I was recruited into having no musical talent myself). Those individuals that are dedicated to helping their loved ones pursue this consuming hobby coordinate meals, hydration stations, and other logistics. And it is a consuming hobby – taking great time, money, and physicality. But when you are surrounded by your family – eating meals together, camping out under the stars, and generally partying it up – the production of it all doesn’t seem like work so much as a way of life.
I went to Canada expecting to see a pipe band perform in a parade, but I left with the understanding that it is not so much about the performance as it is about bonding with your band family. And while I was not with them for very long and I did not contribute more than a little manual labor here and there, I like to think I earned a small place within that family.