Monday, February 29, 2016

Playing at a Funeral

As a rule, I don't like playing the bagpipes for money. I take the view that I have a job and that I'd therefore rather keep my hobbies as hobbies, without the expectations that come with making money from them. (Plus, it's worth noting that playing for money has tax implications, and it's really not worth adding a second, very small, income stream as doing so is more hassle than benefit.) So, for the most part, if someone asks me to play at an event, it will be a friend or a family member, and I'll donate my time rather than charge for it.

That said, every so often I do get asked to play at an event by someone I don't really know. In which case, my first impulse is to pass it on to someone else - there are people in the band who do play for money, and for whom it represents a decent portion of their income, and so are glad of the extra work. But if that's not possible, then I'll do the event is possible. Because if someone asks, presumably it's because they'd rather like to have a piper.

There are three types of events where a person will typically ask a piper to play. Two of these are 'happy' events - weddings and Burns' Nights. In both cases, people are celebrating some event, they're generally happy events, and if the piper can add something to the event then that's all to the good.

But the third of these is the one I really don't like playing at: funerals.

I actually don't mind funerals in general, because every funeral is different - most of the admittedly few I have attended have been markers of the end of a long life well lived. They've been quiet affairs that served to bring a conclusion, and to celebrate a life.

But the concern when playing the bagpipes at a funeral is that you just don't know how things are going to play out. You're inevitably playing for people who are hurting, even in the best of circumstances, and in both of the cases where I've played at a funeral it has been for people I didn't know well. And you can't know how people will react if you play the wrong, or perhaps right, piece of music. It's just difficult.

(And the worst thing of all is dealing with the money. Which really sucks, because the last thing you want to do is ask someone who is in the midst of grieving for the payment that's been arranged, but given that it has been arranged... A useful note for anyone in that position: when confirming the booking, ask the client to give the payment in an envelope to the funeral director. They're used to handling such things, and are good for maintaining a professional distance.)

So it's fair to say that playing at funerals isn't exactly my favourite thing in the world.

(There's an obvious reason I'm mentioning this now: on Friday I played at my second funeral. The lady involved was actually the last of the three daughters of the founder of my pipe band, who I had first met during our centenary celebrations - her father had composed three tunes, one for each of his daughters, but she'd never actually heard them played. So I learned the tunes and played them for her. And so, with her passing, we were asked again if a piper from the band could go and play at the funeral. Naturally, we made sure that someone, specifically me, did just that.)

#12: "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Clone Army Attacketh", by Ian Doescher

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