Friday, June 11, 2010

Bellingham Scottish Highland Games

Saturday morning. 8:30am. Arrive at Hovander Park, directed by boy scouts to parking in a field of knee-high grass. Pay entrance fee. Walk to orchard. Stand in awe.

Pipers of all ages were practicing, some in groups, some independently. It was like a really loud and quacky orchestra warming up before a concert, melodies overlapping each other, no intelligible rhythm, just sound. It was glorious.

Something about the music of bagpipes feels like a call to arms. There's no subtlety, at least to my untrained ear; no "dynamics" (as my piano teachers taught me: playing louder or softer). I doubt bagpipe sheet music includes words like pianissimo or mezzo-forte. It's all fortissimo. The reaction I felt was the same as standing near a waterfall, the sound thunderous and overwhelming, filling my ears entirely so that I can't hear much else, rattling my innards.

On top of the appeal of the music, bagpipes are crazy looking instruments. It takes a minute of observation to understand how something so bizarre can play a song. Bagpipes make a loud honking sound while the piper breathes forcefully into the mouthpiece and the bag fills with air. Once it's full, the piper presses against the bag with their arm, while continuously blowing, maintaining full pressure in the bladder of air. The Chanter is where the piper plays each note. Unlike a clarinet, the musician's breath doesn't pass directly through the instrument being played; the breath is diverted and builds up pressure before being released through the chanter (as individual notes) and through each of the pipes (playing one note each). It almost looks as if the piper has an additional, external lung on their hip, which they pinch and poke into playing music.

And what powerful music is it. In the orchard, the pipers practiced until it was their turn to play for one of the many judges who sat scattered throughout the area under patio umbrellas at small round tables, taking notes. Some cupped their hands behind their ears, trying to isolate the sound of the performer and muffle the sound of dozens of others still practicing. The pipers usually play while marching and with the accompaniment of drummers, so many of them tapped their feet as they played for the judges. Some marched in place. Singled out, the rhythm was unmistakable. I couldn't help tapping my own feet, or bobbing my head.

Something else that mesmerized me were the expressions on the faces of the pipers. Playing a bagpipe isn't exactly flattering. The exertion and concentration is obvious, and almost looks painful. I froze while strolling through the orchard with the camera, embarrassed to be a tourist and snap too many photos of something so sacred and, well, personal.

I wish I could take credit for these next three photos, but they aren't mine. Courtesy of the Bellingham Herald.

For more info, you can do what I did: Google "anatomy of a bagpipe."

(not published by the Bellingham Herald)

Seated on the sidelines while this procession marched in was coolest sound ever. There isn't any way to describe it other than WOW. I was on my feet, grinning ear to ear, snapping pictures like a tourist. I'm pretty sure 1 Cor. 15:52 is referring to bagpipes. I'm not going to visualize angels with harps anymore.
It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.

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