Piping Up a Storm

2014 was an incredible year.  I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the job of a bagpiper, and I finally came to this conclusion:  My role is to soak up tunes, play with passion, create new music, and share what I’ve learned with others.  It is a role of mentorship and learning, a role of teaching about music, culture, and tradition.  It is a role where I have the privilege of bringing music to the real lives of people – in their living rooms and their yards, in churches as they grieve for lost ones, in weddings as they celebrate a new chapter, at festivals as little ones hear the bagpipes for the first time – as well as to play for old friends and new across the country and abroad.
road and roses edit 2This year I traveled from coast to coast  and abroad, absorbing music of many styles. I was able to share some of my knowledge and perspective with a young man from Brittany who traveled to do an internship with me in Asheville, arriving on the first night of Grandfather Mountain.  We embarked on a month-long internship of instrment making, playing tunes, and learning about the music business.  I also had the opportunity to mentor a local high school senior who was interested in the bagpipe. Together we made a practice chanter that will accompany him to his next role in the US Air Force and hopefully to a habit of taking in and passing on mentorship throughout his life.

I became the Entertainment Director for the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.  For the first time ever, bands were paid to perform.  We sent a message to the great Celtic players and the music loving audience that there is a festival that values them. I look forward to continuing that role in 2015.

I played great festivals and concerts including the Texas Scottish Festival, the Maryland Renaissance Festival, the Upper Potomac Pipers’ Weekend, the MacCrimmon Trophy at the Lorient InterCeltic Festival, the Pipers’ Gathering in New England, and St. Andrews Day in Big Spring, TX.

I hosted many friends at my home and workshop in Asheville, NC.  My workshop had taken on a new appearance and meaning as I started working with tools from John Kidd’s workshop, allowing me to release some great new instruments to help other pipers deliver great sound.

As we begin 2015, I am excited to announce that the Piper Jones Band will be recording and releasing a new album!  I am busy writing new tunes and recording with the amazing bouzouki player Frances Cunningham.  The album will be engineered by Grammy Award winner Randy Miller, who also engineered The Willow and multiple Clandestine albums. We are hoping to release it in March as one of the headliner bands of the North Texas Irish Festival.

Funding an album is always a challenge.  So many of you have asked if there is a way to help, and the answer is YES!  I am taking preorders of the CD which will also help defray the cost of making the album.  The link is below. I want to say a huge thanks in advance to all of you who have supported me, as well as Celtic music, over the years.  Your help guarantees that this art form will continue to be shared with others and will inspire young people to continue the tradition.

I look forward to seeing you on the road!

EJ

 

Arrived at a funeral one day early

Today I  went to play for a funeral. This is kind of the opposite of some of the bagpipe jokes you may have heard, where the piper arrives late. It turned out I was exactly one day early to this service and it took me a while to figure that out.

Usually when I’m hired to play for a gravesite service I get there and start playing early. That way people hear the pipes as they are driving up, getting out of their cars, and walking to the gravesite. I usually change tunes when I see the hearse doors open and play “Going Home” while the deceased is borne to the grave, then stop when everyone seems to be in their places.

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Before everyone gets there I find Ceol Mor, the old music, seems to feel right. The tunes are each about ten minutes long and have slow phrases.

Today, since no one showed up and I was all alone, I started to play my tune “Beloved Scotland” and stopped at the end of the first movement. I called the funeral home hoping I was in the right place. Funeral was tommorrow. Okay then. Oops.  I had noticed that some of the markers were very old so I thought I would just strike up again and finish the tune among the graves. While I played this old tune I marveled at some of the dates on the stones, and the fact that many people of the same last names were buried there. When the tune was finished I looked for a long time at some of these headstones and got just the merest picture of the lives that have been lived near here.

 

I noticed that some of the markers were not carved. They seemed to be stones from the field with no names or dates on them. Maybe they had been carved at one time and the rain slowly wore away the marks. I saw one field stone that looked as though it had been written on at one time but the marks were too worn to read. Today I thought about what life might have been like for the people who settled here from Scotland or Ireland or England. I wondered how the experience of realizing they needed to come here must have shaped them and their children.

There were many graves of children and many couples from so many different times.

Tomorrow I’ll go there again and I’ll be engaged with the service but I was glad to be able to be there today and look closely.

 

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Update: Today (the next day) I played for the actual funeral and processed from the church up the hill to the grave, leading the family carrying the deceased, to the tune “Closer Walk With Thee”. It was a tune they requested and has been sung by Patsy Cline and many others. I stood playing as everyone made their way up the steep hill and the minister led them into the pavilion that had been placed over the grave. As he delivered the service and recited the 23rd Psalm I noticed that all the headstones in this part of the graveyard had the same last name. There were stones marked with names born in the 1850’s and generations after that. I looked into the pavilion and there were at least three generations of living relatives in attendance including some teenagers. It was a very moving service and I was so grateful to be there. It is amazing to think of the people who have one by one buried their relatives in that church yard for so many years.

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