The Pipe-Major's Nightmare

Copyright 1996 David C. Daye

Units are forming up for a big parade as I'm pulling bagpipe and uniform parts out of my cramped auto. I check my pipes quickly but a drone reed has fallen loose into the bag. I have to take all the pipes apart and wiggle the bag around until I can pry out the reed, reinstall it into the drone and put the pipes back together.

My watch shows it's getting near time for the parade to start. We're wearing Full Military Dress today but pieces seem to be missing. My spats must have gotten wet last time because I'm having trouble stretching them over my shoes. A button has come off my doublet so I need to find a piece of string to lace it shut. The hemp I find in my bagpipe kit keeps breaking. I wrap my big plaid around my shoulders but the strap on the doublet keeps popping loose. I try to find just the right angle to turn the button so that it will hold.

I can hear some noises from my pipe band which seems very far away. I recall that all my advanced pipers are sick and I have only beginners today. They are badly out of tune, and they have no common sense so they are marching around like peacocks in front of all the school brass bands, where my talented future recruits may be, sounding horrible and tripping over things. All the musical kids I'd like to join my band are laughing at the bagpipes and kilts.

I lock the car and run towards the band so that I can put the beginners into tune and dazzle the young onlookers with my own terrific playing before the parade starts. But people are in the way. I keep encountering squads of huge, heavy police and military men, and I can only push them out of the way slowly. I'm feeling very tired as I see a marshall telling my pipers they're being moved to the front of the parade. They are all excited and are joined by my drummers who are having trouble finding an appropriate beat. Oh dear I must hurry!

Finally I reach the band but nobody seems to recognize me. Drummer Bobby reminds me of the great quarrel we'd had and how I'd left the band 6 years ago. I protested that I've been back for months, but everybody keeps confusing me with some other piper. The band agrees to accept me since the advanced pipers are all sick. But they never practice their pipes, which are all dried out, and the tuning slides are too loose to hold pitch. I have everybody step off the street and pick leaves from shrubs to jam into their tuning slides to tighten them up.

Oddly, the tuning is somehow superlative, and we have become very loud. A lot of pipers are playing a familiar reel as a parade marshall smiles at me. "People enjoy the bagpipes so much that we hired the World Champion 78th Frasers to play too. We knew you'd enjoy them so we're putting them directly ahead of your band." The marshall explains that they make so much money selling records that they now play parades for free in towns like mine.

The Frasers are an enormous pipe band, who have added an extra 12 rows from the Toronto Symphony, and in the middle is a little cart bearing Fiona Ritchie broadcasting live in Dolby Surround Sound. Fiona is writing down my name in case I ever submit a demo tape for her show. Somehow they are stepping off playing the strathspey dance "Blair Drummond" as my pipers discover that more buttons have popped off our doublets but it's not windy enough to matter.

I reason that we will sound OK behind the Frasers if I can make my back row play only the chanters and our front row play only the drones. This way the beginners won't get tired from blowing full bagpipes for the next 5 miles. After some discussion I convince the band not to play anything except the hymn "Amazing Grace" and to leave out all the fast notes so we can keep together.

Just as we draw near the beginning of the crowd, we pass a sidestreet where I hear a fiddle and guitar playing some Irish music. There is a flat trailor carrying The Shillelagh Club's musicians who are sitting calmly in their jeans and sweaters--and in their midst, an empty chair, with a pennywhistle on it.

Exhausted and exasperated, I clamber towards the trailor and the freedom of simple folk music, but I can't seem to get up onto it, because its wheel has rolled onto the end of my plaid and I am caught fast. Someone is trying to start the motor to pull the trailor clear of me and I hear the motor buzz and buzz and buzz and buzz and it is Monday morning thank God!

Return to David's Bagpipe Page