Blowin’ Away

A Piper's Story on St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day is not just a day to celebrate Irish heritage. As a bagpiper, St. Patrick’s Day explodes into an entire month of joining together with other pipers, playing parades and parties, and being in the center of cheering crowds. Every weekend brings us to a new town and new people, but always to the same big party.

For most people, pipers appear briefly in March, hang around for a few pints, and then disappear. Our days of celebrating our heritage are limited, like our days of celebrating our faith. Occasionally pipers return, to our weddings and funerals, but where are they in the “off season”? As powerful as this music is, you’d think we’d be heard more often!

So where do the pipers go? Aside from other parades, during the summer you’ll find us attending Highland Games or an Irish Feis (festival). Here we have opportunities to meet other pipers and learn more about Celtic heritage�the dances, sports, and clan histories. At international competitions, it’s amazing to see how widespread piping is and how many cultures contribute to this music tradition and keep it alive. Pipers from Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States march each year at Scotland’s Edinburgh Military Tattoo alongside pipers from India, Singapore, South Africa, and Japan.

Historic accounts have the bagpipe originating in Africa, Spain, and even China, while variations of the instrument can be found in Italy, Bulgaria, and Sweden�to name just a few countries. What began ages ago as a simple instrument has been built upon and celebrated by centuries of different cultures. The instruments may vary from place to place, but its basic, musical premise is the same.

Perfecting your own tone and technique and learning from others can be the most rewarding part of learning the pipes. Some tunes cannot just be memorized from a sheet of music, but must also be “sung” from piper to piper, to hear the true melody. The more an individual improves his or her playing, the more that piper can contribute to a band, and to the future of piping.

There is more to being a piper than St. Patrick’s Day, just as there’s more to being a Christian than Christmas. Those drawn to a faith this powerful not only get the chance to understand it, but also get to learn so much about countless others who are moved by it. What began ages ago as a simple faith in a higher power has been built upon and celebrated by centuries of different cultures. The way this faith is communicated and heard may vary, but its basic premise is the same. The more an individual improves his or herself, the more that person can contribute to the world.

Being a piper on St. Patrick’s Day is a unique privilege and going back each year to the big party, the cheering crowds, and free pints is great. More importantly, it’s a celebration that pipers know lasts long after March 17.