The sound of the bagpipes is a popular addition to many ceremonies and occasions. They are very often used at funerals and memorials, but also for lighter occasions such as weddings and parties. With a little planning and foresight, an experienced piper can lend just the right air to many kinds of events. Here are some tips to help when you consider hiring a piper.
What Part Bagpipes Play in a Ceremony
People often ask at what point in a ceremony the pipes should be played. There is no set rule. For the most part, it's up to the client and the minister or official. Often, people just want bagpipes outside before or after a ceremony. Other times, bagpipes are the only instrument providing music for an entire ceremony. Bagpipes are a good fit for any procession. Pipes are an easy fit for a dignified graveside funeral. It can be a dramatic surprise to have bagpipes come in at the very end of a wedding to lead the happy couple down the aisle. So it really depends on the occasion. If the ceremony is to be held in a church, do check with the minister first. It's not common, but sometimes a pastor or a priest raises some objection.
Bagpipes are Loud
Some people realize this already, but a surprising number of people don't. The Highland bagpipe is pretty loud, developed as an open-air instrument for both shepherds and soldiers. That doesn't mean they must be played out of doors. Churches and other large spaces are fine. Also, the bigger the crowd, the less overbearing the sound of bagpipes. But think about the space before you ask a piper to perform at a home gathering. Also, frankly, less is more. People often cheer when a piper starts up, but most audiences don't need more than fifteen or twenty minutes to be entertained before they're ready for something else. Bagpipes usually are not well suited to background music.
If you are planning an outdoor event, whether a graveside memorial, or a parade, or a golf outing, or a picnic, be mindful of the affect weather can have on bagpipes. Bagpipes are a fairly complicated woodwind instrument with several reeds. If it's actually raining, pipes will get waterlogged. If it's cold, temperature changes and condensation will play havoc on the reeds. If it's freezing, they simply won't work. Even if it's only moderately chilly, the sound of the pipes won't be as good as in warmer weather.
"Typical" costs vary widely with what's being asked of a piper, and by region. All the considerations for hiring any professional musician apply. Realize that you may be paying for a mere ten minute performance, but you are also paying for the piper's overall time committment on the day, including travel. Usually, pipers are expected to wear a more or less complicated kilt outfit. The outfit, as well as the instrument itself, are expensive. And of course, you pay for professional expertise in an unusual skill. You can usually negotiate, of course. You may be able to shop around. (Or perhaps not.) Experience varies widely. If a piper comes by way of a recommendation, consider the value of that, too.
How to Find a Piper
In the Internet age, searches are pretty easy. There are several services that list pipers for hire. (Bagpiper.com, for instance.) One of the best ways to find a good piper is to search for your local pipe band. If you can find a pipe band web page, the band contact should be a good source to help you find a qualified performer in your area. If that contact doesn't know off hand, they can usually tap into a network of other contacts to give you some direction.