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

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