This weekend, despite Winter Storm Uri and its polar vortex temps, I had the honor of helping a mother pay tribute to her son, gone too early. Despite the solemn nature of these types of events, I really love being able to provide a unique service with such visceral ties to history, culture and frankly, love for someone lost. I also really enjoy the break from the rigors competitive rehearsal and preparation and pivoting to some of the more ingrained tunes I don't get to play that often anymore - laments, slow airs and of course, Amazing Grace.
My husband and I drove quite far North Houston for this one, enjoying the country drive to Iola, Texas. We loved spending time together on the drive, daydreaming about some business ideas and ranch property that we might someday own. He's great company for a road trip and has been around the piping scene so long alongside me that he knows exactly how to support me if I need anything during a gig.
The temp was about 30 F as I warmed up outside and after about a 10-minute piobaireachd, my tuning was on the brink of no return. Drones were ok, but the chanter reed,I feared wouldn't setting if I stayed out there much longer, once I transitioned inside. The funny thing is I wasn't personally cold at all (besides the numb fingers) - a proper wool kilt never fails.
So we switch gears and played indoors for the remainder of the "welcoming of guests" and then got on with the real tear-jerker of the evening. As I played up front, I dared not look at any guest in the eye for I knew the tears were likely flowing as they listened to a centuries-0ld instrument poignantly serenading each photo sliding rhythmically to the next, collectively paying tribute to one man's all-too-short life. I am naturally an emotional player, and with tunes that are so familiar, my mind often drifts. (Not good for competitive play, but hey, mental focus is something I'm working on).
Anyway, on this day, I did let my thoughts go. I thought about how the tuning came back and the pipes sung in the warm room. I thought how sweet the sound indeed this instrument can make. I thought what a serendipitous moment. That if I hadn't learned how to play this instrument 30 years ago, or didn't put in the incredible amount of time, energy and repetitive practice it takes to keep up and play this fickle instrument well, then I wouldn't have been standing here, able to play for this family in one of their hardest times. Yes, they may have found another piper, but today, it was my honor to play. What a gift. What amazing grace.