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Andrew Lenz's Grandfather's Bagpipe PurchaseHow my grandfather got his pipes. I think it's a charming story.
While on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, my grandfather Warren Penniman and his wife, Irene, who were on vacation, stopped in at a cluttered bagpipe shop. This was between 1973 and 1977. After spending some time admiring the tighly packed instruments and goods for sale, he thought better of a purchase, left the shop and off they strolled.
Here I'll note that from the 1940s onward my grandfather played a wide assortment of wind instruments with The Watsonville Band, a large community marching band which he continued to do up until the time of his death in 1988. The local newspaper published an article about him and all his instruments entitled, "A Man of Music." In his shed among other instruments were: a bass drum, a couple snare drums, a tuba, a trumpet, a trombone or two, a french horn or two; and in the house, a piano, an organ, a bugle, a cello, a violin, a harmonica. I'm sure there were more. All of his grandchildren received penny whistles one year for Christmas—mine might still be kicking around my parents' home.
My grandmother stopped her husband halfway down the block, "Warren, you've wanted to play for years. We're here, now's the best time. Why not just go back and buy a set?" With that encouragement, they turned around.
Once back in the shop, they asked to see about ordering a set of pipes. The clerk, around 30 years old, looked my grandfather up and down and saw a man in his early 60s, well past his prime for learning. "We don't make them to hang on the wall, they are meant to be played. If you want them for show, you'll have to buy somewhere else."
It was explained to the shopkeeper that my grandfather had been a wind musician for decades and intended to make good use of the pipes.
With that, my grandfather was presented with a practice chanter and asked to make a case for himself with his fingers. Since my grandfather played tin whistles now and then, he easily presented some form of little tune for the shopkeeper.
The man listened intently, then pronounced, "Very well."
The shopkeeper stepped away for a moment and dialed up the pipemaker and apparently during the phone conversation the maker made it clear that he wanted to be very certain that the set wasn't intended for decoration. The shopkeeper explained that the customer seemed to be authetically interested in playing them and seemed capable. A decision was reached.
My grandparents were told the pipes would take about three months to make, to which they readily agreed. And true to the shopkeeper's word, about three to four months later, my grandfather's pipes arrived in America. (Did he play them? Read this.)
Now a quarter century later, they are in my pipe case and played often, not displayed.
I told a brief version of this story to a reporter when he asked about my pipes after my first competition back in 1999. The resulting article is here.
This page last updated Sunday, August 22, 2010.