Shift: It’s in the Bag

My husband decided he wanted a project for his retirement. Music keeps an aging brain nimble and alert, he’d heard. And he was proud of his Scots heritage, so he settled on the bagpipes.

And, with goodwill and dutiful support, I encouraged him. I, who was familiar with such extraordinary instruments as the piano, the accordion, the tin whistle…

‘Oh, I love the bagpipes,’ several friends and neighbours exclaimed when they heard the news.

‘You either love them or hate them,’ mumbled the more experienced musicians in my midst, those who quickly consulted their calendars and noted they’d be out of town far more often over the next year. They just weren’t going to be able to squeeze in a visit any time soon.

Doing nothing in half measures, my husband committed to regular practice from day one. This included extended regular practice in the house, and not behind closed doors.

Like any new musician, he got off to a bit of a rough start with the blare and burble of the chanter reed, and his own frustrated noises. And in our open-plan home, I, ever the audio witness, lauded his triumphs and acknowledge that yes, the chanter is a tricky thing to master.

But when he added the bag and the full set of pipes, who knew they’d be so loud? I’m sure my eyes watered with the initial blast.

When I got over the shock that any acoustic instrument could register that many decibels, I headed for the greenhouse. In my haste, I was out the door ahead of even the dog, who stood stunned, then howled, then buried herself under the pillows on our bed.

From then on, whenever the wheezing wail would begin—usually without notice—we’d run for it. Dog dashing, faithful but needing-more-distance spouse closing doors and windows at record speed. But even outside, I could still hear the pipes.  Or was that just the ringing in my ears?

Turns out, the entire neighbourhood could hear it. “Even way up the beach,” they reported.

My husband’s dedication is nothing short of admirable. For someone to take up the bagpipes, with no previous musical training, at nearly 60 years old, well, that’s a significant challenge.

I’m a big fan of his ambition and his continued effort. He meticulously tunes those pipes before he plays them. He paces with the bladder under his arm, practicing his breathing and elbow timing, working on his aerobic conditioning. He takes the chanter along on dog walks, running scales and drills and memorizing songs while wandering through the woods with the dog leashed to a belt loop. No fear of surprising wild animals.

He even practices when we go on vacation.

He took the chanter along on a cruise. Apparently, the elderly gentleman in the next stateroom had a coughing fit and then turned up the TV for the entire afternoon practice session. I wouldn’t know; I’d left for the library.

When we spent a week in the city, he practiced each evening in the hotel room. I was on the balcony with the glass door between us, listening to the traffic. To our mutual relief, there were no reprimands from the management, no extra charges on the bill.

And I praise his progress. His fingers have mastered those difficult combinations that give the pipes their lilt and flair. He can read music now, decoding the dots among the lines that spell out melodies on the page.

My only suggestion is that he should soundproof his study. But he doesn’t have any time just now with all the practicing he has to do. So, it looks like it’s going to be more time in the greenhouse for me, and the dog.

I figure I’ll wait until he’s a year in, getting really good, and then I’ll exact my revenge.

I’ll take up the violin.

Julie Ann Luoma is happy to share quirky conclusions drawn from life’s little dramas.