In Bagpiping: Always Choose Quality

"These are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig." -Alfred Hitchcock

Whether Alfred Hitchcock's quote was meant as a joke or a comically earnest critique - his quote expresses an all too uncommon impression of bagpipe music. Over many years of playing the bagpipes, I must have run across every permutation of this "joke" (although most versions typically replace the pig with a cat).

While in the past I considered such jokes the result of either a sarcastic sense of humor or a futile attempt at conversation - now my perspective has completely changed. Instead of brushing off jokes or being annoyed, I've come to wonder: could it be they've never experienced truly great bagpipe music?

Now, I realize that I could be completely off - but maybe, just maybe if they heard a concert performance by any of the top performers of our time - would they still reuse the same jokes? Having been fortunate enough to attend such events myself I can attest to how a live performance can place the instrument in a different light. Maybe their only interaction with the bagpipes was a beginner practicing in a park outside their house or they attended an event where the drones double-toned and the notes of the chanter all played too sharp.

That's why when playing I'm cognizant that for some in the audience my performance could be that first impression.

In the bidding process, service rates (quantity) are oftentimes weighted more heavily than skill level or experience (quality). Here are some other points to consider:

  • Does the piper have a successful competition background? Competition generally leads to better playing
  • Does the piper have leadership experience within a pipe band? Leadership positions typically denote they're within the top percentile of performers in the band
  • Years of playing doesn't necessarily mean a better player - it depends on whether those years are spent actively improving

As in most cases - especially in the service industry - the adage of "you get what you pay for" still holds true. Sure, one might still get that 'memorable' performance, but maybe not in the way they expect! So when it comes time to consider hiring a bagpiper - always choose quality whenever possible.

Just as Alfred Hitchcock said bagpipes were less pleasing than squealing pig - I can't help but wonder if Mr. Hitchcock had had an opportunity to listen to Stuart Liddell, Jack Lee, or any of a number of world-class pipers - would he have found the bagpipes more praiseworthy?