While at band practice a few weeks ago I was inspired to write about the things that ‘can’ annoy me playing in a pipe band. By ‘annoy’ I also mean if I had a weapon in my hand at the time, I’d use it on myself – to make the pain go away. Those things are :
1. The Brute Force Drone Block
So your piping away and maybe have been for a good hour. Your drones are tuned, and you are mildly in some discomfort with your sweat glands working harder than a swimming pool pump and it’s decided to check chanters with another player. Before you know it, you have what feels like a falling anvil on each drone top. Not only that, you turn around and find a large, ‘pleased with itself’ face waiting for thanks. Yes, thank you for your strongman-hammer impression on my tuned drones Mr Helpy Helper.
It’s not the fact that they will even move but it’s more that all you need is just a light touch to stop them. There’s no prizes for the hardest drone block you know. Drones need to be loved and cared for once tuned.
2. The First Phrase Choir
Occasionally everyone is humbled by forgetting how a tune you’ve played like, a billion times starts.
You usually turn to someone close by in the circle and politely ask how the tune starts. Now, everyone likes a good sounding choir, especially that one who Sister Mary Clarence led in the film Sister Act (They were really good!), however before you know it there are 20 people humming, singing, tapping out the beginning of the tune and each fighting their ungodly voices to the highest volume possible as if it’s a race with a prize at the end. Brilliant. By the end of the 10 second performance, you’ve managed to just about remember the tune on your own but that’s more of a bodily defense mechanism saving you from scratching your own eyes out. It’s like you’ve fired a gun in a verbal race to see who can sing the entire tune first, and everyone is going flat out to reach the end.
3. Unavoidable Flatulence
Some people find letting a bit of internal steam off out in wide open spaces, far, far away from other people just fine. So do I. Others however wait until you are half way through a medley to release those hot, gaseous bowel contents. One of these groups of people will get christmas cards from me. The others will not. There is nothing worse than taking what should be a breath of fresh air and realizing that you’ve just inhaled hell. Invest in a gas mask to avoid or find out what everyone’s had for dinner before taking to the circle. Picking a good spot in the practice or parade could save you a world of nauseating pain.
4. The Foot Tappers
For those who have had to keep time in a band, you’ll know what a struggle it can be keeping it all together – and that’s when things are generally going right. When things are not going right, it’s literally a train smash with you strapped right at the damn front of it. What’s worse is that when you are trying to concentrate, mainly from using one of your drones as a weapon against your peers, you can see five or six different tempos being beaten by lots of happy feet. You feel your face strain, your foot tapping hard to try and catch peoples attention to the fact that it’s all going to pot, but there’s just an ocean of happy and content faces. Where’s Kathy Bates when you need her?
I find it hard sometimes keeping a melody in my head, on my own, when I’m silent. Now, add 20 pipers, throw in some drummers, strike up a tune and see what happens when no-one is concentrating and the foot tappers start. It’s a mental quartering. For those of us who don’t know, it’s like having your brain split four ways – by horses. Before you can yell like a mad man there are seven different beats going on and there’s a foot high disco happening down there. Closing your eyes doesn’t help as the virus is already out and spreading. The best thing to do is call Kathy.
5. The Unmovable Drone
You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to hemp a drone. You don’t need to be The Incredible Hulk to hemp either. You don’t have to be Chris Armstrong (although that would be useful). All you need are fingers and hemp. With this said, you can almost predict each practice there will be a drone that seems has been violently rammed on, so much so that the worlds strongest man would quit trying to budge it. This doesn’t bode well for little old drone tuners around the world that have to not only try, but do it one-handed while holding a tuner. We are handicapped as it is holding something. Trying to move a drone like that with spider like fingers just isn’t even a challenge – it’s useless. As boring as pipe maintenance can be, without it we may need to look like this guy…
6. Reed Fungus and other such growths
For those who have to place your mouths over other peoples chanters and reeds, bless you. Bless you all. I used to consider base jumping and cave diving as dangerous but when I considered just how many tiny, really really ugly creatures living inside of our pipes, I became quite humbled about the whole thing. Remembering that scientists keep giving us these stats about the fact that there are zillions of viruses and bacteria on an inch of our skin just imagine what horrors live on a chanter stock and reed. Then, there is another level down from all this because what I’ve just mentioned would be the clean ones. The reeds that grow fungus and enough fur to make a keen hairdresser excitable form a new kind of world for me. Under a microscope the surface of such reeds look like a cenobyte world.
We have to put these things inside of our mouths people! If that doesn’t frighten you, nothing will. Reeds need to be kept in a protector. It’s not hard. Just one minute of work and some care and attention could save you from having to put hellraisers in your mouth, and trust me, they bring pain.
And that ends my worst annoyances. Of course they don’t reeeee-allllyy annoy me that much – we just get on with it, but in a world where it’s free to moan and write I thought I’d take full advantage. Happy piping.