I came home to an empty driveway and darkened house tonight. This did not alarm me overmuch, but I did wonder where my housemates might be spending their Friday evening. Annnnd then I went inside and got on Facebook, which reminded me that ah yes, they have made their way to Mackinac Island for the weekend. Which prompts the question: what to do with an empty house?
Obvious, really: listen to really, really loud music! And maybe vacuum up cobwebs at midnight because I can. Mix up some really weird drinks. Do some utterly tragic dancing. Shower with the bathroom door open. What can I say? I live dangerously.
So dangerously, a thought struck.
Why just listen to really loud music when I could make it?
I don’t mean singing at the top of my lungs, nor playing the piano exceptionally ill. No, this goes further back, back to college days and a rickety old house.
I headed down to the basement and retrieved my bagpipes.
It’s been years since I’ve even touched them. Hillsdale had a ramshackle house for the pipers, back in the day, such that one could go and practice at any hour without disturbing anyone (much). Whether one sounded like Donald MacLeod or a dying cat, the Pipe House was there, a judgment-free zone that mostly muffled the sounds from the neighbors. There’s been nothing like that since – not at my parents’ house, certainly not in the apartment I shared with Thalia, not at my current home. Not until this moment.
Down the stairs I went to fetch the silver case. It’s been waiting patiently for me. I opened the case, took the pipes gently upstairs, and hunted down my water traps (which protect the reeds from getting too wet and mouldering). There are four, but I could only find the three for the drones; in my eagerness to play, my attempts to find the fourth were half-hearted at best. I fixed them into place, attached the dangling top joint of the long bass drone, carefully put the chanter in without disturbing the reed, zipped the bag shut, stood and blew.
The bag didn’t inflate and the chanter didn’t sound, but the noise that came out the drones vindicated every joke comparing the sound of the Highland pipes to the shrieks of a thousand tortured souls.
My kneejerk thought was Oh no. I’ve lost all strength in my diaphragm, so much so that I can’t keep the bag inflated. But that didn’t make sense – partly because singing ought to have kept my diaphragm strong enough; partly because the bag is meant to serve as a reservoir, pressured by the left arm to press air through the chanter and drone reeds. So the second thought was Oh no. I haven’t played it in years, and the seasoning wore off so the bag’s no longer airtight. That seemed likely enough, but some examination revealed that oh hey! I failed to zip the bag completely shut. No wonder the chanter wasn’t sounding!
Zipped properly, the bag inflated and the drones…well. The drones still sounded bad. But then I adjusted the second tenor drone and voila: the golden ringing tone of drones which might, just possibly, be in tune. Sure, the stock needs new hemp wound around it to keep the reed in place, but it can be tuned!
My fingers still remember Bonny Galloway, Abide With Me, and Amazing Grace. I got out my binders of pipe music, and it’s amazing what comes back: the hornpipes that I loved despite their being too fast for me (Honey in the Bag!); the numbers we rehearsed so much that it’s abhorrent merely to set eyes on them (ugggggh, Mull of Kintyre); the songs that accelerate like a train; and the piobaireachd with its elaborate ornamentation.
So housemates, be prepared: my pipes are up, and I don’t think I’ll put them back down.
…well, okay, except for right now, because my lips just gave out.