Playing the pipes was a big enthusiasm of mine at Macalester College. After eight years playing French Horn in school bands and orchestras I was amazed to discover that people could learn an instrument from friends and have a great time playing it, without music or conductors. Plus we got to run the band ourselves, wear kilts, and feel part of an old tradition. What's not to like? And the music is great. Only 9 notes, but a world of tunes.
Here are some recorded sets from 1978 when Skye Richendrfer and I played a recital (with Lisa Dahlgren dancing). Click the links to hear the tunes:
One memorable gig was playing for the world premiere of the movie A Bridge Too Far at a posh suburban Minneapolis theater. As I puttered up in Jim Johnson's VW beetle (brightly painted like Superman's costume) the parking attendant glanced at all the Lincolns and Cadillacs and suggested I park around back. My minute of fame? Sean Connery heard me play, looked me in the eye, and said "very good."
One summer a college person called wanting some new photos of a student playing the pipes. So I put on "full dress"—Macalester tartan kilt, long "plaid" over the shoulder, wool doublet, ostrich feather bonnet, horsehair sporran, crossbelt, etc.—and went over to the college for a late-afternoon photo shoot. (All this traditional garb had been donated in the 1940s by Clan McAlister in Scotland.) The college people assured me I'd get copies of the pictures, but months went by with no copies appearing and eventually I graduated and forgot about it.
Then one day my Dad called saying "Rick! You're the symbol of Macalester!" The college was starting a big fund raising effort ("Campaign for the 80's") and picked as their cover graphic an artist's drawing (at right) made from one of those photos. Sure enough it was me, and for years afterwards I'd appear in the mailbox every few months.
I loved playing the pipes, but gradually got drawn away to other instruments and scenes. The public cares more about the spectacle of pipes than the music ("We had bagpipes at our wedding!", not "We had bagpipe music at our wedding!").
And pipers get together mostly at competitions, where I missed the congeniality of sitting around sharing tunes that I had begun to discover in other music scenes.
Though there's nothing quite like pipe music in your living room, as the members of the Minnesota Piobaireachd Society can attest.