Listening to the bagpipes played at the various events celebrating John McCain’s life this week left me in need of a bagpipe fix, so I downloaded an album from iTunes. There’s nothing like the sweet tune played on the pipes’ chanter accompanied by the rousing blare of the drones. If you’ve never heard them in person, you have missed an encounter that cannot be equaled. They kick the heart and churn the soul until you simply cannot help but stand up and declare yourself free of all earthly bounds.
My father played the drums in a bagpipe band when I was a teenager. As I began listening to this album I’d chosen at random, the first song, “Scotland the Brave,” moved from single bagpipe to a chorus of pipers to the inclusion of the drums, and I remembered with poignancy, awe and not a few tears my father’s struggles to master the damn technique of those Scottish drums. I don’t understand the intricacies of the differences between any other percussion style and those of the Scots, but I do know he did a fair amount of swearing as he practiced for hours on his little homemade drum pad. But master them he did.
Every Wednesday night, our family—Dad, Mom, little sister and I—would head to the military industrial complex where my father worked. While my sister and I took Scottish dancing lessons in one of the out buildings, outside the pipers and drummers would practice both the mastery of their instruments and marching, both fast and slow. And every Christmas, band and dancers together would march in the local holiday parade. We’d wear our little dancing slippers which really weren’t meant for marching, but the magic and joy of following the band led by its drum major lives on in my memory forever.
I miss my daddy. I listen to the drums on this bagpipe album, and there’s a part of me that wants to squeal with a child’s delight. If you ever hear a bagpipe band, whether recorded or live, pay attention to the drums. They’re the best bit of percussive work you’ll ever experience.
My Daddy in all his glory