Meet my good friend, JD, a Gr 2 piper from Charleston, SC. He plays with Charleston Police Pipes & Drums, and was also Mr. May in the 2016 North American Pipe Band Calendar.
JD is just plain awesome, but now he has proven his awesomeness for the entire world. Read on.....
“It’s time to pay the piper”
“It makes ‘em sound better”
“Helps season the bag”
“I got this bottle because it’s called ‘bagpiper’ ”
The relationship between the Great Highland Bagpipes and Scotch Whisky – or any other countless varieties of uisge beatha, or, the water of life – is a long and storied one.
Google “whisky and bagpipes” and there are hundreds of web pages showing you distilleries and bottlers naming their product after bagpipes, bagpipers and composers naming their music after whisky, and all manner of other people bringing these two things together.
However, something that you will be hard-pressed to find is the exact effects of the consumption of alcohol on the highland bagpipes. It is with a mind to answer that question that I dedicated myself to doing a truly interesting experiment during our St. Patrick’s Day performances this year.
Some background information (for science, of course!):
I’ve been playing the bagpipes for 15 years (just about half my life)
I’m ranked as a Grade 2 soloist by the EUSPBA (near but not quite at the top of the amateur ranks of pipers, for those unfamiliar)
In the years since it has been legal for me to purchase and consume alcohol in the USA, I’ve developed a collection of perhaps 20 bottles of Scotch and Irish whisky and perhaps an equal number of Bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys, so I’m not unfamiliar with the drink
I expect, based on blurry memories of St. Patrick’s Days and post-contest beer tents gone by, that the first couple of drinks will do little to affect my playing – it’s possible that it will improve, even, due to the relaxation that comes with a wee dram.
However, we play for nearly 12 hours on St. Patrick’s Day, and between walking the city and consuming who knows how much, I will likely be dehydrated and delirious, so it’s anybody’s guess if I’ll still be in tune, steady, or even playing by the end of the day.
My take: Decent rendition of the first two parts of "Paddy’s Leather Breeches", since this is Paddy’s Day. A bit tight, as I hadn’t warmed up sufficiently.
My take: Another good rendition, slightly looser playing, and my pipe tone has taken a hit from the moisture and sunshine in Charleston.
2 (or is it 3?) Drinks
My take: Tempo is notably less stable, but execution is still fairly good.
My take: To be fair, I’ve had several pints of Guinness at this point, too, making this less scientifically about just whisky and bagpipes. I’m definitely having a good time, as evidenced by the dancing… presumably my audience is, too. Screw it, we’re not going to play just 2 parts for this one – 4 parts of Paddy’s! I have no idea how my hair got like that.
My take: Execution has taken a notable hit at this point, but my pipes are still moderately stable. I had another beer before this whisky so I’m actually several more drinks along. More dancing… aannnndd (blank look on my face), another couple jigs? Why not?!
I should not have chosen "Allan MacPherson of Mosspark" for the second jig. My arm is giving out, but at this point we’ve been piping for some 6 hours. "Glasgow City Police Pipers" was surprisingly good for this level of intoxication… until the 3rd-6th parts.
Definitely More Than 5 Drinks
My take: Pipes less stable, not really bothering to tune between sets. Did I play the second part 3 times? This is actually kind of embarrassing. Wow. I must really be dedicated to this blog to allow this to be posted.
My take: I don’t remember piping any more this night, but presumably I did. The only thing anybody caught on video was more dancing… so enjoy! Drunk me dances poorly, but it’s still better than drunk me on the pipes!
The 4-6 whisky range (plus however many pints of beer I had) was where my performance took a serious nosedive, and sober me cringes when I hear great tunes like "Glasgow City Police Pipers" played so poorly in public.
If someone asked for my recommendation on the subject in the future, I would tell them to just avoid it before contests and recitals, but 1-2 is okay before less serious gigs, and may even help. Have plenty of water, and know your limits – it looks like my limit was about 4 (or was it 3?), but yours might be 2 and it might be 6, depending on your own body makeup.
The key thing to remember when having a dram is to do so responsibly. I expect I wore my welcome out with some patrons of bars we visited after the videos were done, and I had to drink a LOT of water to avoid a hangover the next day.