Introducing the newest vendor to the Tahoe Unveiled team, Seán Cummings of Tahoe Bagpiper. Click here to check out his vendor page.
Photo: Christa Hoffarth
We heard a legend about it being good luck to have a bagpipe at a wedding, have you heard this legend? Can you tell us about it?
Absolutely true, and in many cultures as it turns out. In fact, there’s a Bulgarian proverb that states:
“A wedding without a bagpipe is like a funeral”
Having a piper at a wedding is an age-old tradition. Bridal parties were conveyed in procession from their homes to the site of the wedding. They were accompanied by pipers and a constant firing of guns which kept off evil spirits and brought good luck to the couple. Elements of these customs persist today in the tying of cans and shoes to the wedding car.
What is your favorite part about playing the bagpipe?
I love the tradition. Bagpipes have been played at celebrations for thousands of years—the first written record of a bagpipe was from the year 425bc in Athens, Greece. In the Middle Ages they were considered the most popular instrument throughout Europe and the Isles. I love connecting with that. When the pipes are in tune and singing I’m connected to the generations of pipers before me who’ve done the same thing. As a result, I have a personal expectation of my own playing and deporting myself in a manner that would honor those pipers. The guests may not know that 7 generations are dancing through my fingers but they WILL remember hearing it.
Photos: Mike Larson
How do you help a couple in song selection?
There are a number of tunes appropriate for the processionals and recessionals and they are all easily searchable on the internet for sound samples or I can play them on my electric pipes with the bride on speakerphone. We can also meet in person of course. Sometimes they’ll have a favorite tune in mind for the bride’s processional or recessional. If it’s not a traditional pipe tune I can sometimes transpose it for bagpipes given enough lead time, although not all tunes translate to bagpipe because of the limited scale of the instrument. I’ve transcribed everything from “Commitment to Excellence”—the theme song for the oakland raiders—to “Edelweiss”.
Do you work with any other musicians?
Musicians I’ve worked with include Anne Roos, a local celtic harpist; John Logiurato, the lead drummer for the Sierra Highlanders pipe band; and with Reay Palmermy, pipe major of the Sierra Highlanders. Often, the couple will have a band and/or a DJ for the reception and to act as MC, in those cases I will coordinate with them. I can provide quality references to any number of other musicians from other pipers, drummers, harpists, celtic bands (trad to punk) and anything in between.
Photos: Mike Larson and Doug Miranda
When is the best time during the wedding to have a bagpiper play?
Here is what I usually do for a wedding; fifteen minutes before the ceremony I begin playing to entertain the guests as they arrive and take their seats. Traditionally this was to “wake up the town” and let them know something special was about to take place—and to bless the space. The tunes I play are some of the most popular and familiar, having over 100 tunes committed to memory. When the bridal party is ready for the processional I’ll stop and move to the back of the congregation, creating a nice dramatic pause and directing the guest’s attention.
I can play any number of processional tunes: for the seating of family members, for the groom and groomsmen and for the bridesmaids and then a special tune for the bride. I like the tradition of the piper preceding the bride and her escort. For the processional, I choose nice melodic tunes that are easy to walk to, such as “Wedding March From Unst”, “Flower of Scotland” and “Highland Cathedral (which was used in the kilted wedding scene in the movie 4 Weddings and a Funeral)”.
During the ceremony I’m sometimes asked to play an anthem like “Amazing Grace”, often as a gesture to those who have passed away and could not be at the wedding. At the end of the ceremony, after the officiant introduces the new couple to the congregation, I begin playing a bright tune for the recessional and follow the new couple through the congregation. Popular song’s include “Mari’s Wedding”, “Murdo’s Wedding” or “Highland Wedding”. I’ll continue playing for background music as the couple greets their guests and poses for photos. I can also announce the couple’s arrival at the reception, often with the same tune I used for the recessional.
Is there anything else you’d like the Tahoe Unveiled readers to know about having a bagpiper at a wedding?
Another reason for their popularity at weddings, and other celebrations, has been that by hiring just one bagpiper you can get enough sound for all to enjoy—no amplification required—being ideal for outdoor ceremonies and receptions.
Thank you Seán! We are looking forward to hearing your bagpipe all over Tahoe this summer.
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