Selecting A Bagpiper
Experience, Quality, and an Extensive Repertoire are Critical...
When looking to hire a piper, the single most important thing you should do is to
educate yourself a little about piping and to familiarize yourself with what good
piping should sound like. There are plenty examples of both good and bad piping
on the internet, and if you do any of the following YouTube searches, you should
find a number of examples of high quality piping.
It is important to note that just because a piper has a website does not guarantee
that they are a competent player of the Highland Bagpipe. It is also important to
keep in mind that many of the top quality pipers do not have websites and advertise
simply by word of mouth. More importantaly, know that the terms "Professional Piper"
and "Competes at the Professional Level" mean totally different things. Anyone who
charges money for their playing can call themselves a professional piper and so
this term is not a good indicator of the quality of their playing. This is in total
contrast to a bagpiper who competes at the "Professional" level and has been ranked
as such by their association's grading committee. Any professional level competitor
is guaranteed to be a good player. Professional level competitors are also known
as "Open Pipers".
You should also know that Amazing Grace is one of the first tunes that every piper
learns (along with Scotland the Brave) so knowledge of these tunes is a very poor
indicator of a pipers skill. There is a very wide range of skill levels among the
pipers who market themselves online, and yet quite often we charge similar rates.
This brings me back to my point that educating yourself a little about piping is
the best way to insure that you are satisfied with the bagpiper that you hire.
When looking to hire a bagpiper for your wedding or special event, you must balance
the requirements of the performance with the expertise of the player. Bagpipers
who play in the higher solo competition grades will not only have more extensive
repertoires, but they will also have more experience on handling tricky performance
requirements and issues. Higher grade bagpipers will also be able to tune their
instruments more expertly and will have a better overall sound. The higher solo
competition grades are Professional (Open), Grade I, and Grade II.
Does this performance require a larger repertoire? For example, is the bagpiper
playing over an extended time such as to welcome people as they arrive? Does the
performance require playing more difficult tunes such as reels, jigs and hornpipes?
Quality of Music
How good do you need the bagpiper to be? For example, is this a large formal wedding
or an informal family picnic?
Does this performance require playing the bagpipes with other musicians? Does the
bagpiper need to do something special during the performance?
The bagpipes are a complex woodwind instrument which is greatly affected by changes
in temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. If the performance requires playing
outside, experienced bagpipers are better prepared to handle the challenges caused
by weather (cold, hot, rainy, etc.).
If the performance involves extended playing inside a particularly small room, Scottish Smallpipes or Shuttle Pipes are ideal for
when the performance calls for playing in a more intimate setting, or to provide
a musical contrast to the Highland Bagpipes. On the other hand, if the room size
is particularly large, such as a convention hall, I would recommend hiring more
than one piper or even an entire pipe band. Additional pipers or drummers can really
add to the overall performance.
When selecting a bagpiper, there are several questions that you can ask to help
you determine the expertise level of the player.
Solo Bagpipe Competition Grade
Bagpiping is a very competition oriented activity and almost all of the better bagpipers
from North America have competed at one point in their careers. In this, piping
is similar to swimming, track, figure skating, gymnastics, tennis, or golf in that
the more advanced participants in each of these disciplines has been ranked competitively.
Each competing bagpiper is assigned a Solo Bagpipe
Competition Grade based upon their playing ability. Professional (aka Open)
is the highest level solo bagpipe grade and Grade V is the lowest. When hiring a
bagpiper, ask them:
- What grade do they compete in?
- When was the last time they competed?
- Have they ever won a prize in that grade?
Bagpipe Band Experience
Virtually all bagpipers in North America have played in a bagpipe band at one time
or another, with better bagpipe players tending to migrate towards the better bands.
All of the better bagpipe bands are competition bands and each of these is assigned
a Bagpipe Band Competition Grade just
like the solo bagpipe competitors. Grade I is the highest level bagpipe band grade
and Grade V is the lowest. When hiring a bagpiper, ask them about their band experience:
- What is the highest graded bagpipe band they have competed with?
- How many years did they compete with that band?
- Did they serve in a position of musical leadership such as Pipe Major or Pipe Sergeant?
Years of Experience
Be aware that years of experience does not equate to quality of playing. I know
of bagpipers who have only played a couple of years and who are infinitely better
bagpipers than players who have been piping for forty years. The guidelines of solo
and band competition experience outlined above give the best indicator of a bagpiper's
Proper Bagpipe Instruction
All of the better bagpipers became the players they are by receiving regular instruction
from qualified teachers. The bagpipes are a very unique instrument with a largely
oral history and cannot be self-taught because the playing technique is so drastically
different from that of other instruments. It does not matter how good a musician
is on other instruments, proper instruction is required to obtain even a moderate
competancy on the bagpipe.
Not every bagpiper for hire has a website, but if they do, look for sample recordings
of them playing on their website. If they do not have a website, you can always
ask for a sample tape or have them play something over the phone. Sample recordings
of my playing the bagpipe can be found on my Repertoire
Please visit the About Me
page to see my
credentials. Thank you.
Playing my bagpipes for a wedding in South Georgia
Courtesy of Judi Reid and Created in the Image
Playing the recessional on my bagpipes for the Bride and Groom at the end of the
wedding service. The Bride, Margaret Urbano Gatton is a friend mine who I worked
with at Delta Air Lines.
Playing my bagpipes for the American Nurses Assocation in 1991. The bagpiper to
my right is Chris Lyttle.
Playing my bagpipes at the MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, North Carolina
for a birthday party.