Saturday, May 19, 2007

Paying the Piper

I have always liked bagpipe music, which is a very good thing considering my current residence. You might well wonder how many opportunties I had to experience bagpipes as a girl in Indiana. If my life were a novel, these bagpipe experiences could be used as foreshadowing. In Indianapolis, where I grew up, there is a large building called the Scottish Rite Cathedral. I still do not know exactly what the organization and the building are, but they had a parade at least once a year complete with bagpipes. My first recollection of pipes is as a little girl enduring men dressed as women, clowns on oversize tricycles, and automobiles with smiling faces waving to a crowd only to get to the pipes. Fortunately for my limited attention span, you could hear the pipes coming long before they arrived.

Much later in life, I returned to Indianapolis as an urban pioneer. I had an apartment downtown before it was fashionable. On Sundays my neighborhood could have been used as a film set for a post apocalypse story. The streets were deserted and in classic cinematic fashion, odd bits of paper or plastic bags whirled in the winds to underline the emptiness. On some Sundays, somewhere out of sight in this emptiness came the sounds of a lone piper practicing. I opened my windows whatever the season and let the music of this ghost piper pour into my tiny apartment.

I learned on a trip to Winnipeg that steet musicians and performers are called "buskers." It seemed an odd word but somehow more professional than street performer. It gave them a history and some standing among the benches and statues and food stands of a large park. I noticed a young man as I walked to the park that seemed to have too many punctures to his body. I should know better than to think that way if for no other reason than my daughter once entangled me in the impossible discussion of how many holes in her jeans were too many for school jeans. I should have known better then, too, but sometimes I fall prey to that silliness of thinking that I already know better.

I put the young man out of mind as I wandered through the park, looking at statues, following a timeline along the sidewalk and then I heard it: a very sweet melody line skirling above the wind, the unmistakable sound of bagpipes. I caught bits and pieces of tunes as I wandered continuing to take in the sights, but in very short order, my feet were taking me closer to the bagpipes. As I got closer, I began to hurry because the music was so compelling. I wanted to be closer; I wanted to see who was making such sweet, sad sounds from that cantankerous instrument. Of course, it was that same much-punctured, multi-tatooed, mohawk-bearing young man. From a closer distance I could see how young he was and how much he enjoyed his pipes and sharing that music in him with anyone and everyone. I was doubly grateful that the spiritual lesson to see beyond the obvious had come with such a sweet sound.

I managed to find a Scottish band in Indiana and was piped down the stairs from the wedding into the reception. Since coming to this part of the world, I have had many opportunities to hear pipes. They are an integral part of weddings and funerals and Robert Burns' suppers and Hogmanay and highland games. Everytime I hear pipes, all those occasions come into mind, so when I heard a piper in town yesterday, I followed the sound and cheerfully, gratefully threw some money into his open case.


At 5:43 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

When I encounter street musicians I always recall how you grace them with a contribution, and often I do so, following your lead. I said lead instead of example because lead is a musical term.

Come to think of it, one could think of blogging and writing and replying to comments as a form of jazz. You write, someone else does a riff on it.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

In Chicago most of the pipers are of Irish descent. It's always a grand affair when you have a bunch of the Shannon Rovers marching through.

But still... don't you think sometimes that the only thing better than a half hour of bagpipe music is 15 minutes of it?

At 9:31 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Ampiggy--I love the jazz rift metaphor.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Cur, your comments ae always right on point. Yes, bagpipes are like some people who are good in small doses or from greater distances.


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