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Organising a piper for a wedding is just one of the many details you have to take care of before the big day.  For many of us, it'll be the only day in our lives we book a piper to come and play for us.  So whether you book me or anyone else, this page contains some handy info and advice on getting it right.

When thinking about a piper for a wedding, there are two things to think about:

  • What do you want your piper to do?
  • Can your piper do it properly and professionally?

These are simple questions, but it's important to get the details right, or things can go wrong quite quickly.  The disasters described below are all things that have really happened somewhere out there...

Wedding Disaster #1

The piper was asked to play outside the church for half an hour before the ceremony as guests arrived.  The request seemed simple and no-one anticipated any problems. 

On the day, the piper arrived early, tuned up, and took his place on the door and started to play.  Moments later, an enraged minister emerged.  No-one had told him, it was his church, the piper was drowning out the organ and he didn't want any piping near his church, thank you very much.

The piper was sent packing, to the disappointment of the couple and their family and friends.

There are various ways you can use your piper on your wedding day - some common, some less so.  We wouldn't suggest using everything on this list, though!  And of course, if you have your own way of doing things, so much the better.

  • Reveille - if a member of your wedding party is prone to sleeping in, being serenaded by a piper at an early hour is a surefire way to get them up and moving.  Not recommended for those without a sense of humour.
  • Welcoming guests - a piper (or pipers) playing for a half hour before the ceremony begins, usually immediately outside the church.  
  • Entry of the bride - a little more spectacular than the typical organ piece. 
  • During the ceremony - a piper can provide either incidental music or accompaniment to a hymn (though not all hymns or pieces of music can be played or are suitable for the pipes).
  • Signing the register - providing incidental music while the register is signed.  My personal opinion (and it is just an opinion) is that the bagpipe is a little too much at this point, as everybody wants to have a little chat and it's not always the quickest process.
  • Exeunt omnes - The piper can either lead the newlyweds outside or simply play while the congregation files out.  He can also play while the photographs are being taken, and appear in them.
  • At the reception - to welcome guests, to march in the couple, to play for a first dance (perhaps a waltz) or to play for a few ceilidh dances.  At the end of the night, he can play Auld Lang Syne for the assembled company.

Wedding Disaster #2

The piper was asked if he could play Amazing Grace during the ceremony.  However, no-one mentioned that it was to accompany the hymn, sung by the congregation.  The hymn version is slightly different, and worse, no-one had told the organist.  The piper set off in E flat, the organist in C major.  The choir had no idea what was happening, but decided to launch into song four bars early.  Down at the front, all the poor bride could do was cringe.

The key thing to ensure is that everyone involved understands what the piper is going to do and when.  Often someone will need to give the piper a cue to start and/or stop playing, so it's important to know who that person is and make sure he and the piper have been introduced.

If the piper is to play any piece of music with another musician, in particular the organ, they must be put in touch before the day in order to confirm any technical details.  Sometimes, especially in older churches, it is not possible for the pipe and organ to play together as they are tuned to different pitches. 

Although it is an extra expense, it is well worth considering including the piper in any rehearsal.  Sometimes a moment's consultation can make things run much more smoothly.

Choosing a piper

Wedding Disaster #3

The couple asked several pipers for quotes, and were delighted when one was significantly cheaper than the others.  The result was less than spectacular, and can be seen on Youtube here.

There's a good reason that the bagpipe has a reputation for being untuned and unmusical: quite often, it is!  However, there's no reason for it and in this day and age, it's not hard to find a good player who will produce a fine-sounding, stable, well-tuned instrument.  My advice, first and foremost, is to trust your own ears.  The piper should sound like he's in control, with no funny noises, wavers, squeaks, etc, and it should sound in tune.  And of course, if you can't hear him play, you should wonder why that is. 

You should also consider the piper's experience level.  Has he or she been playing for a number of years? Are they happy to give advice, and offer alternatives?  A good piper will also be honest in turning down a request he feels will not work; this is not a sign of inability.