Noddy says “Practice every day!”

My kids were watching the show “Make Way for Noddy” yesterday. The title was “Noddy and the Magic Bagpipes”, which was enough to catch my interest.

In the episode, this pre-school icon is so impressed by the sound of his friend Big-Ears’ bagpipes he convinces Big-Ears to lend them to him. Big-Ears impresses upon Noddy the need for regular practice. Un-named consequences are hinted at if Noddy fails to comply.

Predictably enough, Noddy’s first flush of enthusiasm wanes quickly as various distractions cause him to shelve the pipes for several days. Because of lack of practice, the set of pipes comes to life and runs around the neighborhood on its little drone legs, sneaking up on people and causing chaos.

Moral of this story – follow through on your commitments, or suffer the consequences.

When I came downstairs this morning, I checked my pipes were still in their case. They were, but I learned something today.

Instrument of War, Instrument of Death, Instrument of Life

As I write, the list of names of those who died in the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001 is being read in Manhattan. The FDNY Pipeband has just finished playing Minstrel Boy. In the days and weeks that followed 9-11, the band played at funerals for their 343 comrades who died that awful morning – sometimes as many as 19 funerals in one day.

The bagpipe is an instrument like no other. Ot one time classified an instrument of war, playing was punishable by death. Today, the public face of the pipes is all too often the lone piper playing Amazing Grace at funerals. I seem to have been to a lot of funerals in the last few months. People very close to me. I have played for some; others I have attended and observed silently.

Throughout all of this I have become more and more aware of the bagpipes’ role as a ceremonial instrument. I feel the accumulated weight of the people who have died for playing, while playing and then been played to their graves by the bagpipes. My pipes seem to have acquired a have a power I can feel when I pick them up.

We live in sad times – human life seems increasingly cheap all over the world. But despite the sadness, both personal and social, there is no denying the joy playing the pipes brings to me and my listeners. I don’t even play very well, but I have received the compliments of so many people for playing. At highland games, in parks where I’ve practiced, on the street where I live, people shake my hand and thank me for enriching their lives. It’s the pipes they’re thanking – I’m just the messenger. It may be an inconsequential act, set against all our problems, but sounding a note of cheer and encouragement is something I can do.

I remember my family and friends who have gone before me, and I hope my piping will continue to brighten the lives of those with whom I still share this life.

I Am Proud to Play a Pipe

McCallum also has excellent customer service

Adding to what I said earlier about my McCallums, I should tell you about the excellent service I received from the pipe maker.

I blow really wet – it’s kind of gross sometimes. Anyway, a few months back I noticed that the fake ivory end of my blowstick was loose where it screws onto the end of the blackwood. I checked closer and realized that the threaded blackwood area had cracked, from being wet and drying out so many times, I guess. I also had a loose ferrule on one of my drones after moving from New York to Utah, which I figured was also a drying-out issue due to humidity differences between the two places.

I called McCallum to ask their advice and Kenny McCallum (the owner and pipe maker) picked up. He was extremely friendly and helpful – turns out he used to live in California before moving to Scotland to start his business and he even played in Utah a few times. He even offered to replace my blowstick free of charge – despite the fact I didn’t buy the pipes directly from him and they were by then over two years old.

I ended up fixing the problems myself – hey, a real piper can do his own repairs, right? But this was just another reason to believe that this is a nice company to do business with.

My wonderful McCallum bagpipes

I play a set of McCallum AB/2 Medallists. They came with Ezee-Drone reeds and I subsequently added a Ross canister bag. My band in Utah, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band, also uses McCallum chanters, so the nice thing is that I can play my pipes in the band with its own chanter.

I’ve had the pipes for nearly three years now and they are amazingly steady. Once tuned they play back in at band practice in about five minutes and the drones and chanter need almost no adjustment each time I take them out. Strike in is never a problem, cut-offs are easy, and the sound is sweet and precise.

The pipes easily handle the transition from the humid Eastern U.S or the English coast to the dry Mountain West. They adjust to altitude change (I’m at 4000 feet above sea level here) with no problems whatsoever.

I’ve listened to a lot of pipes since I bought mine, but never once have I regretted my choice, and if I ever have to buy a new set of pipes I’ll go straight to McCallum again.

They also have the coolest logo!