Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wanna make Rio cry?

Sunset, North Uist, taken from the back door of my friends' house

That's easy. Just make him listen to a really good pipe band play "Amazing Grace"— mission accomplished.

I've got a wee smidgeon o' the Scots in me, Clan Graham. But mostly it's Irish and then *gulp/blush* English. I prefer to think that the power of the pipes o'er me has to do with the historical, and perhaps genetic, fact that it was the Irish who exported the pipes to Scotland in the first place (along with the kilt). And as an Irish piper/fiddler friend of mine likes to say, "And they still haven't got the joke!" He tells the story of his baby daughter (now a well-known Irish musician) who would cover her ears when he was outside practising with his war pipes and say "Ceol tín salach!" ("Sick, dirty music!")

But the snap and rattle of the snare drums, the skirl of the pipes— what can match it as a visceral whallop? No wonder the Irish call the piobh mhor ("big pipes")— the war pipes.

A couple of years back I was on the Outer Hebrides and they were having a major pipe competition there. I went of course. A "typical" North Uist day: cloudy and a wet on-shore wind— ah, summer on the Hebrides!

These competitions are very formal, with required moves, footwork, and tunes that are not all that entertaining. But the local crowd was as interested in the fine points as a knowledgeable ranch crowd would be at a back-country rodeo. And they couldn't have been more warmly welcoming of me, the outlander.

There was a young lad there from Northern Ireland, competing. Saved his money and made his way alone from Belfast to Lochmaddie and then down to the competition. We struck up a conservation. Wonderful manners and a sweet, gentle disposition. Won second in his class. I was very happy for him, and he was "over the moon" as they say in that part of the world.

A pipe band, for me, is a powerful experience as long as they are good. It's a connection to a racial memory I think. I believe in that. I think we are connected to things through our genes that we know not through our brains. Just ask any handy Celt.

8 comments:

Miz Minka said...

Pipes have always had the same effect on me. I like to think that during the ancient Celts' migrations across the continent before settling in the British Isles, some tiny bit of their genetic code made its way into my biological heritage. The first time I heard Gaelic music my heart strings resonated. I've loved it ever since, and it never fails to move me.

One of the very first LPs (I'm dating myself!) I bought back in the day was a Scots pipe band recording. Amazing Grace was my favorite track.

Stephen said...

The pic. WOW!

Kansas Scout said...

I second that.

Rio Arriba said...

KS, you sent me an email and I responded. For the second time I got back a "recipient unknown." Very annoying.

Sven said...

Rio,
Still looking for a copy of "The Prairie Melts" online, without success. I will e-mail ya a copy.

As for the Pipes.......sigh! We buried me Mum, a great Irish gal, in early August. Her remains were piped from the chapel to the columbarium by a single piper playing Amazing Grace and Highland Cathedral.

The annual Tattoo of massed pipes and drums in Edinburgh is recorded on YouTube. Raises goose bumps....here:

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=AD44921302CD628A&search_query=bagpipes+tattoo

Crotalus said...

I be of the McCall clan and of English descent as well. (With a bit of pirate thrown in for good measure! Harrrr!)

JohnMXL said...

When my daughter chose to play viola in school orchestra this year I threatened to take up the pipes in retaliation.

A small part of my heritage is Irish, so maybe I come by it naturally, nonetheless something in my soul stirs when I hear a well played tune on pipes.

The Hermit said...

I saw the ceremony of trooping the colors at Edinburgh castle back in the 1970's. You'd have liked it.