Nothing says ‘Scottish wedding’ quite like the sound of bagpipes, so embrace your heritage with the help of a piper
Having a piper play at a wedding is a custom that’s been going strong for hundreds of years, as our ancestors believed that if a bagpiper met with the bride first, she was guaranteed a happy marriage. And, as the Scots are not a nation to argue with superstition, piping is still a priority in 2017.
“A piper brings an air of grace to welcome your guests,” believes Gemma Cannon, general manager of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. “It’s a tear-jerker and it looks amazing in photographs.” Piper Rory Monaghan also makes a passionate case: “I think a piper is a necessity at a Scottish wedding,” he says. “Bagpipes are embedded in Scottish culture. The music doesn’t have to be uninspired or predictable: it can be fun and beautiful and can really enhance the most important day of your life.”
Finding yourself a talented and dedicated piper is stage one of keeping the heritage alive. And, as you’ll frequently find in the planning process, word of mouth is the single most reliable method of landing the right person for the job. Rory points out that this is the only way to ensure your piper can actually play. “It’s easy to find a piper online but much harder to ascertain their skill level,” he warns. “This is where reviews and suggestions from friends come in.”
If you’re struggling to gather tips from your social circle, an agency like Reel Time Events or a hub such as the National Piping Centre are smart places to start looking. “You can book directly with the National Piping Centre, a world-renowned institute of bagpiping,” says Gemma. “The best pipers on the planet are taught (and teach) here. But if booking elsewhere, ask for a Grade One piper.”
Once you have a piper on board, deciding what to do with them is the next question. What’s the best way to use their talents? “The piper adopts a very versatile role and it’s down to the couple to decide what they want,” explains Black Isle-based Sean Mann.
Provided you look after your piper, offering them water – or something stronger! – if the weather is stifling, keeping outdoor sessions to a minimum when it’s cold and wet (“If it’s raining, the piper can’t play for too long as the drones will eventually stop working,” explains Rory), and making sure they have a quiet, dry place to tune up and prepare themselves, their potential for the day is limitless.
“Based on a rough service of three and half hours, which covers most of the weddings we do, you could ask your piper to play as guests arrive at the ceremony, pipe you from the car to the aisle and play a few songs as the crowd is leaving,” outlines Claire Weir of entertainment agency Reel Time Events. “For the reception, the piper could welcome the newlyweds, and pipe guests to the line-up. The piper can announce the cutting of the cake, after which the bride will often present them with a dram, in which case the piper will toast the couple and pipe themselves out. These duties should all be finalised at least two weeks prior to the wedding.”
And there’s more: how about including a Haggis Address to delight friends coming from overseas, or hiring the piper secretly to surprise your other half? “As long as we know in advance that it is a surprise, we will communicate this with the venue to ensure the format is suitable,” says Claire.
But if you’re seriously keen to make a lasting impression, the National Piping Centre has an extra trick up its Prince Charlie-clad sleeve. “Our pipers will host a bagpipe lesson as an ice-breaker during the drinks reception,” says Gemma. “This gives guests young and old a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a go at playing the pipes!” Ear-plug favours? Er, check…
No inch of your day is likely to be left uncustomised and the same should go for your piper’s playlist. Song choice is a crucial consideration, and whether you opt for typical tunes or more alternative pieces, make sure they speak to you as a couple. “One of the biggest misconceptions around the bagpipes is that they are only for playing traditional Scottish tunes,” explains Rory. “It’s not true! At one wedding, I played the Hokey Cokey, which resulted in a lot of laughs and was a great success.”
Nonetheless, guard against anything too outlandish. “We often get asked for requests, spanning everything from the classic ‘Highland Cathedral’, ‘Mhairi’s Wedding’ and ‘The Black Bear’, through to Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ and the Star Wars theme,” says Claire. “This year has seen a rise in popular music requests such as The Proclaimers and One Direction: some of these are possible, but remember the bagpipes only have eight notes. If we feel the tune doesn’t translate well, we wouldn’t be happy attempting it.”
The beauty of big-day bagpipes is intangible and otherworldly: “A wedding without a piper just doesn’t feel the same,” says Sean.