One Huge Tune Up Tip for Weddings and Funerals
As pipers it’s likely that many of us play gigs here and there. Most often, I play at weddings and funerals.
There’s nothing all that hard about these gigs, and frankly, it’s rare that anyone would even notice if your pipes weren’t quite in tune. Unfortunately, a lot of folks hire pipers just for the basic raw sound of the pipes, and for the look of the piper.
So, the tip really is, just dress nice when you play at gigs. That’s all that matters.
The biggest challenge instrument-wise is that you generally have to warm up long before the performance. For instance, at a wedding, you may have to sit through the whole ceremony, and then be expected to fire up and escort the wedding party out of the church. Or, at a funeral, there’s often an “Amazing Grace” or something of the sort 15 to 20 minutes into the service.
Here is where my tip comes in: It’s always important to tune up your pipes in the environment in which you’re going to be playing. In the funeral/wedding environment, the “environment,” so to speak, is a totally un-warmed up instrument! Be sure to get your pipes in tune in their “cold” state, not their fully warmed up state!
Here’s my routine:
- I play for 10 to 15 minutes before I leave the house, or as soon as I get to the gig. This gets the moisture flowing through my pipes, and I also check the tuning of my chanter at this point, to make sure everything sounds good.
- I let my pipes rest, without playing, for a solid 10 to 15 minutes.
- About 5 or so minutes before I need to take my position for the gig (at which point I won’t be able to play at all), I fire up and tune my pipes right away – no warm up! I get them in tune to the chanter in their “cold” state. Now, in half an hour or so after my pipes have been sitting for a while, they should still be in tune.
Usually, gigs don’t require the piper to play for a long time during the ceremony. We usually play a quick ditty during a service, or march a wedding party out of the church. Therefore, to be fully “warm” is not essential. If you do have to play longer at a gig, don’t be afraid to reach up and tweak your drones from time to time, to keep them sounding harmonious! A good thing to practice on your own is the art of tuning artfully. In other words: try to make your tune-up routine musical. I use a bright clear high-A when I reach up to tune my drones, and sections of major-key piobiareachd variations to check my chanter tuning.
Unfortunately, when people hire us to perform, they don’t necessarily expect us to sound good. However, that also means that if you do sound good, you’ll make a phenomenal impression on your clients and the audience members present. Good luck at your next gig!
Michael Neal McGee