Monday, March 23, 2009

The Cat's Out of the Bag(pipe)

My nephew just became engaged. Our family is very excited! The first grandchild to get married, and it has us all dreaming of MixMasters and those groovy can openers that don't leave sharp edges. We tend to dream in practical terms.

I love weddings, and we're coming up on the season for them.

And knowing as you do that I am a free-lance musician, I'm sure you figured out that as far as I'm concerned, the most important ingredient in a memorable wedding is, naturally, a full buffet.

If you thought the first priority of free-lance musicians was the opportunity to share their gifts and celebrate their art, then you are clearly not a free-lance musician. Free-lance musicians will strap a pair of cymbals to their thighs and blow into a Coke bottle if the gig pays well and there is an unlimited supply of refreshments. The really good wedding players can survive for months on nothing but ham rolls and Jordan Almonds.

This is the first known wedding singer, in a photo dated some time mid-September, 1884.
Note that she can hardly stand upright on account of all the pasta salad and mint brownies she's eaten since June.

However, the importance of good wedding music can not be ignored, even when there is prime rib on the menu. The right music can make all the difference in defining the mood and the overall tone of a wedding. And you learn so much about a couple, about their families, by the kind of music they play at their weddings.

CDs on a boom box? The best man is wearing Vans, the bridesmaids' hair is teased and sprayed to twice its normal height, and the buffet was catered by Costco.

A singing piano player? Sensible folks, getting the most bang for their musical buck. The reception is being held in a community gym, but the basketball hoops have been tastefully concealed with macrame plant holders and miles of crepe.

String quartet? Someone's trying to impress someone else, and it isn't you. You're going to spend most of the reception with a vague suspicion that yours is the only gift purchased at Target, and at any moment a valet will come looking for you, the driver of the blue '98 Tempo, which is currently being ticketed for embarrassing the Jaguar parked next to it.

I had a harp playing at my reception. Pretty snooty stuff, I agree. But to keep balance in the universe, the harpist had hemorrhoids.

(No kidding. She gave us a discount for all the minutes she spent in the ladies' room screaming into the towel dispenser.)

So what is there to say about someone who has a bagpipe providing the music for their most special of special days?

Such was the case of a wedding we attended some time ago, although not long enough ago for the ringing in our ears to stop. There are occasions when, still suffering PTSD, my husband erupts into a violent chorus of "Scotland the Brave" and has to be sent to the tub.

Now, please let me observe that, under the right conditions, a bagpipe can provide a remarkably inspiring backdrop to a wedding.

The right conditions, however, have traditionally involved the bagpiper being positioned on a mountainside, preferably in Scotland, and therefore several thousand miles away from the bridal party, known among crime scene investigators as victims.

(CSI 1: "Why did his head explode?"   CSI 2: "He was bagpiped.")

The wrong conditions might be described, purely hypothetically, as a medium-sized conference room in a downtown hotel.

I'll be honest. I thought I had heard it all, wedding-music-wise. But nothing could have prepared me for this.

For starters, I discovered that a bagpipe is one of the few musical instruments where the player does not, technically, have to be within a hundred yards of the performance, which come to think of it is about where I'd stand to play the crazy thing. Once the bag is filled with air (think "inflating a cat") it becomes a separate life form and pretty much takes over the gig, honking and thrashing and wailing until it suffocates itself in what could only be described as a mercy killing.

To the best of my understanding, the job of the bagpiper is primarily to torture the instrument to the brink of death, and then callously drag it back to life with another infusion of air.

However, as if that weren't enough, I also learned that the central feature of bagpipe music is essentially a harmonic practical joke: The drone.

It's that voice, that wretched low-pitched complaint that viciously sets its teeth against whatever key the rest of the music is written in and tears at the soul of anyone capable of carrying a tune.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you haven't spent enough time singing in the church choir. Every church choir has a guy in the bass section who sings just like this. He joined the church choir for one simple reason: He hates the church choir.)

Once the bagpipe is inflated and the drone has begun its mythical journey up and down the listeners' brain stems, the player can, theoretically, pick out a tune on one of several protruding 'pipes.'

No doubt inspired by the kinds of shenanigans people are likely to get up to when living at oxygen-deprived altitudes, surrounded by nothing but heather and farm animals, the pipes themselves bear uncomfortable resemblance to the business end of a milk cow.

And heaven knows, striking up a tune on them elicits roughly the same response you'd expect if you attempted a similar musical assault on old Bessie.

You can't see him from here, but there is a bagpiping student lurking behind that knoll back there.
The cows are getting nervous.

So all of this came together at the aforementioned wedding in the aforementioned conference room of the aforementioned downtown hotel.

The idea was, the bagpiper would sort of 'encourage' the bridal party up the aisle from the back of the room, and once they had been neutralized he'd follow the bride up and finish the job.

After a full two minutes of cat inflation, followed by another ten minutes of explaining things to the SPCA field agent who burst into the room with a warrant for the arrest of the musician, the bridesmaids began their agonized walk down the aisle, each escorted by a groomsman and honked along by the bagpiper.

The problem was, there were more bridesmaids than groomsmen. So once the first batch of girls reached the front of the room, the guys hustled out the front doors, dashed down the hall, and came in the back to pick up another load.

And, in what was clearly a crime against humanity for which a United Nations Tribunal could justifiably be convened, the bagpiper allowed his instrument to DEFLATE between treks down the aisle. (I'm not speaking metaphorically. Potty brains.)

So the entire procedure was then repeated...

(girls positioned)


Oh, lord have mercy! The sound of windows breaking meant several guests had made a jump for it. Men wept openly. The minister confessed to cheating on his taxes. Everyone was writhing in the grip of their own personal hell.

And then.... came the bride.

Wearing the face of a hostage trying to telepathically convey "call the police he says he's going to kill me" to the obliviously cheerful Avon lady standing on her porch, the bride and her catatonic father staggered down the aisle, the sadistic bagpiper hard on their heels.

And what had been merely a terrifying, penetrating shriek (with accompanying drone) from the back of the room, became, upon passing up the aisle, a laser beam of focused malevolence which assaulted the ears from the inside out, turning every bone and cavity into a diabolical echo chamber of dental tool proportions.

The walk must only have lasted a minute or two, but so did Pearl Harbor. Eventually, however, with most of the audience quivering on the floor, clawing at their faces and attempting to locate the tops of their skulls, the piper passed the bridal party, gave one final honk that was apparently the bagpipe version of the finger, and exited out the front doors.

As the agonized cries of that portion of the wedding guests who had not already clubbed themselves unconscious with their cell phones subsided, the minister released his death grip on the best man, located what remained of his little book (apparently he had tried to survive the ordeal by chewing through the binding) and began the actual "joining in holy matrimony" portion of the program.

I can't honestly remember what he said. Any communication short of semaphore flags was going to quite literally fall on deaf ears. But somehow the bride bounced back to "radiant" and the groom located the perpetual smile for which that boy has always been famous and loved, and the marriage went off without, or more specifically with, a hitch.

To this day, they're as happy as two little clams. Crazy in love, optimistic and cheerful, a complete joy to spend time with. They've taken the worst that life has to throw at them and lived to tell the tale.

Although, come to think of it, they both whimper at the sight of plaid.

So congratulations, Dyllan and Sally, on your engagement! You know that if I can be of any help, I'm there for you. Piano, singing, thigh cymbals and Coke bottles - you name it, I'll bring it! All I ask is that you have plenty of ham rolls and Jordan Almonds on hand.

And please, in the name of all that is sacred and holy, do NOT invite a cat to the reception.

They're nearly impossible to keep in tune.


Force India said...

Oh... gracias por ir a mi blog. alli casi no va nadie. puedes mirar donde vivo con el google maps o google earth, yo vivo en torrelavega.

Kristina P. said...

Congrats to your nephew!

And I was in Harmons last week, getting the salad bar, and there was some sort of fundraiser table, and a guy playing the bagpipes, inside the store. It was very weird.

My friends wanted to have a mariachi band at their reception. My friend's mom wasn't having it.

brudcrew said...

We had a family of bagpipe players that lived in the neighborhood whereI grew up. We could hear them practicing in their basement from our house a block and a half away!! I can't imagine one behind someone as they walk down the aisle! Who's idea was that? In all fairness, I do like bagpipes but from a respectable distance. Say, 2 blocks down the parade route.

SO said...

Holy squishy cat! That was hilarious. And if that couple can make it through the bagpipes at the wedding they can make it through anything. Thanks for the laugh.

There is a reason why bagpipes are played on a HILLSIDE in Scotland.

templework said...


I've got tears rolling down my cheeks I laughed so hard!

DH is wondering what the heck is going on - chuckle

I soooooooo needed a good laugh this morning!

Karen said...

As someone who is hoping to be planning her own wedding sometime before the end of the decade, I thank you for the helpful tips!

And, by the way, I just want you to know that this is one of the funniest blog posts I have read in recent memory. Great job!

Hel said...

Ah gracious!! You had me in tears.

And not because you are as funny as a bagpiper following a bride down an aisle - my father plays the bagpipes.

And used to practice when everyone was in the house. I have fond memories of him taking over our playroom. Five children standing agape, hands over ears, wondering what in the world they did to deserve such ruthless torture.

My mum, bless her cotton socks, just continued on with the housework.

Jessica said...

I love the bagpipes at the parades. It is my favorite part along with the Post Office Band, Polynesian Band, and Gospel Choir in big hats float.
I never will listen to the bagpipes without imagining the wedding. Hey maybe the Polynesian Postal Choir with big hats will be available at the wedding!

Sher said...

Bagpipes at a wedding. WOW! I was in the musical Brigadoon in highschool, and they brought in a bagpiper for the funeral scene, and evertime the dude would get ready to start playing, we would bust up (when we were supposed to be acting sad--because of my finely tuned acting skills, I just pretended to be convulsing in voilent sobs, instead of laughter).
I alwasy thought it sounded like an old dude farting.

Congrats to your nephew!

Travis and Amber said...

It reminds me of that Friends episode where Phoebe screeches along with the bagpipe music-I die laughing everytime.
Go with practical gift please-and not expired food storage (we did get that for ours)

That Girl in Brazil said...

Okay, how is it that every time I read you I think, "no, THIS is my favorite post!"


I think you should post three times a day. K?

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

maybe you could GIVE bagpipes as a wedding gift, with a juicy piece of advice like, "never go to bed without a little bagpipe tune..."

Shawn said...

That was too funny! There was actually a missionary in our church that played this crazy instrument, so I KNOW exactly what you are talking about.

It was interesting, to say the least!

Hey---also---if you have the time, I am having my first ever giveaway on my small blog---check it out.

aunt dyanne said...

Ahem.... you do realize that "Arbuckle" is Scottish? not just "Garfield". or "Fatty" haha

It really is. And yes, he lived in Scotland...for a little while - but NO thankfully...he doesn't own pipes. And we didn't have pipes at our wedding....have been to a couple though!

The HIGHLANDS of Bonnie Scotland are Beautiful! and when the pipe sounds are far enough away and echo against the is tolerable...and kinda soothing really....


I think this one IS my favorite

Melanie J said...

Oddly enough, my husband just this afternoon informed he wants a bagpiper to play "Amazing Grace" at his funeral. I said that was fine as long as I was already dead.

Mallory said...

I learned in the New Era that you can hear bagpipes from 10 MILES AWAY!!!! I actually do like the sound of bagpipes when they are played nicely and not too close. But, I would prefer someone to just play the larynx at a wedding! :D

The Crash Test Dummy said...

You are so cute and funny. I can't wait to come back and frequent you here after all my company leaves and my research papers are graded.

Lynne's Somewhat Invented Life said...

Hi, I wandered here from Shawn's blog. You are funny, girl. How long does it take you to write this? What a good laugh I've had. And...just so you know, I have you by 20, yes count them, 20 years so I win the oldest blogger award. I had to hold down "ctrl" and fiddle with the mouse wheelie to get your type big enough to read. The eyes are gone and parts of the brain too. Anyway, thanks for the laugh.

PS And did you know bagpipers don't wear underwear?

AS Amber said...

OH. EM. GOSH. That's some of the funniest reading I've seen in...well...since your last post. Seriously, top 5 fave posts for sure!
Where to start? I have a hottie all lined up for D as soon as he gets up here. She's a way good girl & cute!
I want to guess who's wedding this was. Can I? Brandon?
I'm pretty sure I had a boom box playing at my wedding. But only for the dancing part. Was there music during the reception? And the of course YOU and Ken? sang!!
Tops of skulls, cheating on taxes, breaking glass...LMAO!!!
She's baaaa'aaack!

Lisa Loo said...

Wow--now we can imagine the story all over again except the 2nd time around he'll have no skivvies. That is so disturbing.
I have only ever heard bagpipes played at funerals and I always wondered if that was because only the dead would let them play.
I went to a recption once with an accordian for music. I couldn't stop breaking into random polkas for a week.
Who knew you were so easily bibed??!!

Lara said...

Would you believe that I had absolutely no music at my wedding? Perhaps because nothing short of the Chicago Symphony would have been good enough for my husband. :)

Speaking of my husband and bagpipes...we have an ongoing argument. I REALLY want to learn to play them someday. I just really like them. I realize that the drone is kind of weird and all, I just like the feeling I get when I hear them. But Joel absolutely forbids such a thing. No learning of the bagpipes for me as long as I am married to him. Sigh.

And, thanks for the huge laugh!

SCP said...

Did I ever tell you about my terrible nay dreadful thigh cymbal accident? Well believe me you don't wanna know!!!

AS Amber said...

Um ya...time for another dose of DeNae, please.

Saucy B said...

omg woman that is laugh out loud funny! What an awful thing to have at a wedding. I'm guessing whoever had the idea to have the bagpiper was feeling pretty sheepish after this disastrous outcome.
Happy SITS day!

Marie said...

Happy SITS day!

We had no music per se at our wedding, we got married on the beach so just waves crashing against the rocks...

misssrobin said...

Truly, a bagpipe has no business being indoors. Unless it's mounted on a wall behind sound-proof glass.

I'm traumatized by that wedding and all I did was read the story. I hope you have a good therapist.

Charlotte said...

LMAO!!! Omg, the bit about the harpist with hemorrhoids... I mean, you should warn me before you type something like that, nearly just spit water all over my 'puter :)

This post was a joy to read. Thank you.

Kimberly said...

I. Think. I. Need. My. Inhaler.

I'm quite sure I haven't laughed that hard in quite some time. Hysterical!

Stopping by from SITS...and WILL be back, frequently!

Christina said...

So no one should give you a CD of bagpipe music as a gift any time soon? LOL.
My godfather had a bagpipe played at his wedding... We thought it was a joke at first...

Visiting from SITS.

BraCraft said...

I LOVE your writing!
I actually had to stop reading several times because I was laughing too hard to continue!
So glad you were featured on SITS so I could find you!

Jen said...

LOL! I was at a wedding with bag pipe music. It was not a good time.

Ado said...

Hi Moses - I mean D., Happy SITS day (which is where I discovered your blog!) I loved this post, and I love essayists because they know how to write. Also love the bagpipes, my dad wore a kilt & tried to play 'em. And - at our wedding the opera singer + organist did not show, and they had no boom box, so my husband who had never touched an organ, sat down and played Trumpet Tune as I walked down the aisle. Turned out that the thing that went wrong ended up being the best part about the wedding. (-:
Anyway happy SITS day to you.

Madison said...

I like bagpipes occasionally. I have some such music on my iTunes. I went to a university whose pipe & drum band beat out a bunch of Scottish bands to take a bagpipe title. My collage years had sporadic bagpipe music throughout.

I raise hearing dogs and I love their reactions to bag pipes. Mostly they try to get away as fast as possible. One dog decided to sit right in front of the piper and howl. In tune.

Congrats on your SITS day and your recent anniversary.

BTW what do you think of a didgeridoo at a wedding?

The Lovely One said...

Happy SITS Day!

The music at my wedding was the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. I wouldn't have it any other way!

Adrian's Crazy Life said...

That's hilarious! One of my sons actually wanted to take bagpipe lessons (we're Scottish, so it's not that far-fetched). Fortunately, I was able to bribe him out of the idea by buying him a video game and by repeatedly telling him how HARD it was to learn to play and how much work it would be!