As a piper I not only spend time practicing my pipes and performing at various events – I also write original bagpiping tunes. It’s usually not something I am setting out to do…the initial notes and melody might come to me as I am practicing or noodling on my chanter. Soon I am recording the tune and writing additional verses. Sometimes I leave it at that – I know the song and play it by ear, sometimes in front of others at a service or party, often times just for my own pleasure at home. Other times I develop it further; I transcribe the song onto paper and I name it: Memorium for the Children
Recently I drove to Longview to play a funeral. It was a scenic drive – the roads were clear and wet while the previous night’s snowfall clung to every other surface. The dark green tree limbs were fringed in snow and fields and rooftops were transformed into fresh squares of white.
The service took a common course. After guests arrived there was a short eulogy followed by my playing Amazing Grace. I was also asked to play a couple songs as the service ended and guests made their way from the chapel to the reception room. The tunes I have written work really well during these times. I can patch together various melodies and slow aires that seem to fit the mood well. At this service though, something dawned on me: sometimes the crowd wants to hear more of what they recognize. Oftentimes a familiar tune can bring comfort and help them connect with memories of the person they are honoring at the service.
I stood back and played for the transition from service to reception. I first played Scotland the Brave. I read in the guests and families’ faces the look of recognition. I felt I should follow this theme and play Auld Lang Syne next. I watched as soft smiles flitted across their faces. Guests seemed to listen more intently, seemingly lost in a memory or relishing in the nostalgia of this classic tune.
It’s important to always come into each service and event with fresh eyes. This isn’t cookie cutter or assembly line work. I spend time greeting and building a connection with each funeral director or family member or friend that approaches me. The needs of each service are unique and often times the themes or mood can vary greatly. But as I merged south on the 5 toward Portland, the sky in front of me full with dense gray snow clouds, I reminded myself: sometimes people just want to hear the hits.