What is involved with having a piper at my event?
If you don't know exactly what you want or what to expect - ask. Don't try to look/sound like you know what's going on unless you do. Yes, you'll be footing the bill, but you've (hopefully!) hired a professional, so listen to their advice. (Note: The instrument is called the bagpipe or "the pipes", never "the bag(s)". The player is a piper or bagpiper, not a (bag)pipist nor a "bagger".)
If you have specific tunes in mind, let the piper know and check to see that they are within his/her ability or the instruments capability. If you don't know what specific tunes you want, try to decide the mood you'd like the music to project. This will help the piper suggest tunes for you. (Note: Please be aware that Amazing Grace comes with a great deal of emotional baggage an may not be appropriate in many celebratory settings.)
Regardless of where the event is to be held, the piper will need some time to equilibrate the instrument with the local environment and to tune. Ideally the tuning should be done in the performance area, but this cannot be done in many cases necessitating a tuning area that is somewhat removed from the performance area. It should be at the same temperature as the performance area and preferably soundproof. Allow the piper access to this area about 45 minutes prior to the start of the event. If the event is outdoors, the piper can tune up "down the road" and will probably be "close enough"!
While not being played at the event, the tuning of the bagpipe will hold (well enough for non-competition purposes) for about up to 30-45 minutes in an indoor environment, but possibly for only a few minutes if your event is outdoors in the hot or cold. Ideally, the piper could disappear to a soundproofed tuning area (e.g. a choir room in the basement of a church) and re-appear a few minutes prior to being expected to play again. This is often not practical, so when not playing, the piper may continue to silently blow through the instrument to keep it humidified and at the proper temperature. This can generally be done very discretely.
If the piper is expected to play in more than one environment (e.g., pipe the party out of the church and play outdoors while guests gather), the pitch of the drones will change. The piper cannot adjust the pitch of the drones on the fly. (See Why do my drones change pitch with temperature?) My preference is to re-tune rather than project an image of poor quality sound, however this may be a judgment call on the part of the piper depending on how long (s)he'll be playing.
If you want the bagpipe to be a "surprise", special attention must be paid to the location of the tuning area as the bagpipe is very loud and cannot be played quietly - even to tune it. In a church, the choir practice areas often will work out well for tuning as these areas are most likely to be sound proofed.
Cues should be worked out for each section of the performance. Ministers and funeral directors are professionals and quite capable of working out appropriate cues with the piper. For weddings, having the piper attend the rehearsal is highly recommended.Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016