For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a thing for bagpipes.  Don’t know why, exactly.  The rebellion factor probably is a large part of it.  Most people recoil at the sound.  The pipes are the only musical instrument ever to be banned as a weapon of war, and I can tell you for a fact that there’s no better way to piss off your neighbors than starting up the pipes on your front porch at 6:00 AM (“There are those who, upon hearing the pipes, cannot contain their urine.”  Sadly, I forget who said that).

Rebellion and sociopathy aside, the pipes have always got my spine tingling and my hackles up.  That’s paradoxical:  I don’t know if I’m attracted to the pipes because I like the idea of kicking people in the teeth or vice versa.

On to the practicalities.  Any double-reeded instrument, like an oboe or a bassoon, is wickedly hard to control.  The Highland bagpipes have four–count ’em, four–double reeds, all manipulated through a confabulated bellows contratption.  The fingering on the business end (the chanter) is pretty straight-forward–no sharps or flats, for one thing–but controlling the blasted clanjamfrie is damned near beyond human powers.  If your lip quivers a little bit or if your lungs start to run out of steam, you’ve totally queered the deal.

Playing the bagpipes takes a superhuman amount of lung power.  I think that, overall, my stamina’s pretty good for a man of my advanced vintage.  But after twenty seconds or so of taming the pipes, I’m beat.

Add to that the fact that you have to memorize the piobreach, which is an immense body of ridiculously complicated music.  You really do have to memorize it; no piper worth his kilt would be caught dead with a music stand in front of him.

It’s exhausting, physically and mentally, but it’s great discipline and a splendid way to annoy the neighborhood.  It also keeps me in touch with my Scottish roots, which is alone enough reason to do it.

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