Probably the most common event for which pipers get called is a funeral. These are difficult events. Professionalism requires the piper to be as empathetic with the bereaved family as possible, whether the service is a more traditional service or mourning or one of the celebration of a life. Perhaps this is easiest when you are not connected personally with the family and the only contact that you have is before, during, and perhaps after the event. I played for the latter this past Monday.
It was cool for May...and the air was dry. In summation, it was perfect outdoor piping weather. There was little chance of my drone reeds getting choked off by moisture or in having my tuning go completely nuts on me. I could even go in and out of the church with little change in chanter or drone pitch. I was asked to play for both the funeral service and the graveside internment. The funeral was long, but many people had kind and inspiring words to say about the late Wayne Campbell of Luray and Blacksburg, VA. Being a geologist myself, I felt some connection with this man who was a geophysicist, though his work in the oil industry was never something to which I aspired. My interests were always on the other side of geology -- the environmental side -- though I did dabble quite a bit in paleontology (See mom, I did become a paleontologist, I just never worked at Taco Bell!).
I piped beforehand a bit and walked the family in on Amazing Grace -- which is not normally a tune that I play walking, but it worked nicely. At the finish of the service, I played Going Home while walking the casket and family out.
The trip to Beahm's Chapel Cemetery did not take too long, as I was ahead of the funeral procession. Upon arrival, we drove to the top of a hill which had a beautiful, commanding view of the proximal Blue Ridge Mountains and the distant Massanutten Mountain. It is really a stunning vista -- a fine place to be buried -- and an encouragement, no doubt, for relatives to visit often. It was windy though and quickly became cloudy while I was warming up the pipes. Tuning remained reliable, but my fingers found themselves getting a bit cold. I've been in a similar situation before. It was a November funeral and I warmed up so much that my reeds became soaked despite the dry air and, when I began to play for the funeral itself, the tuning was suddenly something south of atrocious. It was so bad, that I felt compelled to come back the next day (there was another funeral that day) and take a moment to do it right.
The sun broke through, however, and "The Campbell's Are Coming", "Oh Shenandoah", and "Amazing Grace" emanated sweetly from the pipes, even as I walked away during the latter tune. A few drops of rain blew into our faces, but the persistent sunshine told us that it was merely an ephemeral splatter.
I drove back to work feeling good about the whole thing. The family was able to lay their patriarch to rest, my playing went well, and the weather held. All was good. Even the boxed dinner provided me by the kind members of Rileyville Baptist Church was good on the way home. Four hours later, I was
Russell Kohrs is a high school science teacher by day (and, well, afternoons), father and husband at all times, and a piper whenever he gets a chance. Originally from Maple Heigths, OH, he now lives in the Mount Jackson, VA area with his wife and two boys.