Monday, April 20, 2009

A Nerve Racking Experience

A couple of months ago I was asked if I would help an old friend plan a Ward party on the theme of "Scotland". For you who are not of the LDS (Mormon) faith, a "ward" is a congregation of Mormons - similar to a parish.

He wanted me to play the bagpipes and get some highland dancers as well as help him arrange for food and anything else that might add to the scottish flavor of the event. I was very busy with other things, but agreed to at least play the bagpipes with my son and wife accompanying me on their drums. I referred him to the Utah Scottish Association for help with the other things.

The weeks passed since the invitation and, while I was practicing on the pipes, it was pretty non-commital (in otherwords I wasn't preparing like I should have). My wife drafted a short program that we would follow and the tunes were fairly simple, so that made my preparation even less intense as I knew these tunes fairly well. The only one I anticipated any problem with was a solo piece I'd been working on, but not very hard since competitions were another couple of months away.

We practiced together as an ensemble a few times the week before the big evening and I was ready to go.

I got a call from my friend and he told me that he had arranged for some highland dancers and that their father was from Scotland and would be at the event. I felt a little more pressure to perform well, but was still fairly confident.

We arrived at the church house where the social was taking place. Folks gave us polite smiles as we carried our instruments into the building in our kilts. We found a room away from the cultural hall where people were beginning to gather and I was able to tune up my pipes.

After running through a few tunes I left my pipes and went into the cultural hall to get a bite to eat (they were having a potatoe bar). As I sat and chatted with my wife and son, I caught a fleeting glance of a gentleman who was helping the dancers in another room. I assumed him to be the father from Scotland, but in the brief look I got of him I thought to myself, "He looks a lot like the Pipe Major of the Wasatch and District Pipe Band." The thought didn't stay with me for long, because 1) I couldn't imagine what he would be doing at this small Ward gathering; and 2) if he was really here, he'd be doing the piping.

After the meal it was time for the entertainment. My wife came into the back room where we had our things and said that she had just talked to the father of the dancers and they had asked if we would mind alternating numbers with them. I told her that I thought that was a good idea as it would give us each a break (piping and highland dancing can both be taxing - especially on an old man like me).

We went up on the stage and I drew back the curtain for our opening number "Scotland the Brave". As we set up on the stage, I glanced over to the back stage door and to my horror, there stood Mr. Morrill, the Pipe Major for the Wasatch and District Pipe Band; who is also, by the way, the President of the Western United States Pipe Band Association (WUSPBA) and one of the best pipers in the State if not the western USA!! He's been playing the pipes since he was 8 years old and has piped with the Utah Symphony, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and was the funeral piper for Gordon B. Hinkley, the late president of the LDS Church. My mouth went instantly dry!

I remained fairly composed and was able to pull off a decent rendition of Scotland the Brave and was grateful that my wife and son were playing with me to help drown out my pipes somewhat.

We then played a competition medley together (which went fairly well) and left the stage. My wife looked at me and asked, "Do you know who that is?" in a knowing tone. I squeeked, "YES, it's Andrew Morrill!!" She said, "I know, I recognized him when I went and talked to him, but I didn't want to tell you because I was worried you'd be intimidated." "DARN RIGHT I'm intimidated, [I did say darn because good Mormons shouldn't swear] I'm freaked out!!" I don't think I needed to tell her this last bit of information as this was self-evident.

To add just a bit to the intimidation factor, Mr. Morrill announced the dancers and informed the audiance that the first dancer was the former "world champion" highland dancer from Scotland! What was I, a lowly grade 4 piper, doing on the same stage with these people?!

After the dancers finished their two numbers we were up again - correction - I was up for my solo ... yikes!! I did a brave attempt playing my solo with the President of the Piping Association for the western States standing not 10 feet away, but in the end I slaughtered it (at least it felt that way).

After the dancer's next numbers, my son did a great job on his drum solo. The dancers performed once more and then fittingly I went out and soloed "Amazing Grace" thinking deep in my heart that if any wretch needed saving it was indeed me.

Mr. Morrill was very gracious in his comments after the performance and I appreciated that he was so kind. I have a whole list of excuses, but in the end, while I didn't do as well as I could have, I thought I did okay for where I'm at as a piper ... and some day, I might even watch the video.

1 comment:

Rose said...

LOL! I'd love to see that video. Someday after you've watched it. You probably didn't do as poorly as you think you did.

I admit that was a lot of pressure to be under. I'm glad I can't remember faces very well. I'd never know if somebody was a great piper!