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Wedding Bagpipes

by J. Stephen Sanders

Long after the cake has been enjoyed and the flowers are gone, one of the most cherished memories of a wedding will be the sound of the Great Highland Bagpipes. Most brides desire a unique flavor to their ceremony and this definitely fills the bill, whether they are of Scottish/Irish ancestry or not. These are suggestions, ideas, and experiences for having bagpipes as part of the wedding day. Considering the cost of weddings, bagpipe music is one of the least expensive, yet most memorable touches to a ceremony. It's one thing your family and guests won't forget.


They certainly are, however, this is their appeal and grandeur. A properly tuned and played set of bagpipes has no musical equal. Churches usually have high ceilings with plenty of open space and people acoustically dampen much of the volume. If the church has an organ, you can be certain bagpipes won't be overpowering. The effect can be breathtaking. At out-of-the-way locations with no other practical access to live music, the grandiose sound of bagpipes bridges that gap beautifully.



A number of brides wish a few tunes to be played before the ceremony as guests are entering the church. This is usually 10-15 minutes before showtime and at or near the entrance. It makes a grand welcome.


Many brides wish to be piped in and her bridesmaids as well. Likewise, it's a bold entrance for the bridegroom and his attendants. Something played upbeat for the bridegroom's men, a stately tune for the bridesmaids, and of course an altogether different tune for the bride.

Consult the church's music policy prior to making these musical arrangements. Depending upon your faith or denomination, some houses of worship won't permit bagpipe music in the sanctuary. This does not mean pipes cannot be part of the day, it means other options can be pursued such as playing before (or after) the ceremony, outside the sanctuary, or at the reception.


One tune should suffice. This could be positioned somewhere in mid-ceremony such as during the unity candle lighting. I strongly discourage the hymn Amazing Grace at weddings. When played on the pipes within a religious setting, it can bring up memories of an entirely different service that guests may have attended recently.


The moment the minister announces the newly wedded couple, the piper starts playing and marches down the aisle to "retrieve" the couple and play them out. If you wish to have a piper at only one point during the ceremony, this is it. Keeping it a complete surprise to the guests gives the most dramatic results. I've never known of anyone who wasn't delighted with the surprise. Highly recommended.


This is played after the new couple has been led from the sanctuary. Essentially it's a continuation of the Recessional. The piper proceeds outside and performs as guests exit. Lively tunes are appropriate at this time.


Several choices to select from....

~ Play at the reception area entrance as the official welcome. No problem for the guests to locate it.

~ Perform during the photography session while the couple is occupied, keeping guests entertained.

~ When dinner is ready, announce it with a tune, or lead guests into the dining area.

~ Lead wedding party into reception area.

~ For the 1st dance, playing a waltz for the newlyweds. The familiar All Those Endearing Young Charms is a fine selection.

I recommend the above choices as a list to select from - it's not suggested to play each. A little piping goes a long way. It's preferable to have a little piping sprinkled throughout the celebration rather than a single marathon performance. A harp is background music, so is a string quartet - bagpipes are not.


There's no absolute protocol here. Ask if you have a specific tune in mind - some can be adapted. Unfortunately many cannot because of the bagpipes' limited range and peculiar scale.

Any piper worth his salt can provide you recordings demonstrating his ability and suggested selections. These can be converted to mp3, midi, or .wav files and downloaded to prospective clients. No competent piper should object to a live audition either. I maintain a demonstration file in video/audio format that can be mailed as a CD or downloaded to prospective brides. Brides have found it quite helpful.


I've never been asked to leave the kilt at home. For an evening service, kilted formalwear is appropriate if the bridegroom and his attendants are decked out in formal attire. A day jacket or Highland shirt does well for balmy afternoon occasions that are more casual. Clients seem to prefer as dramatic appearance as possible.


Each event is a custom assignment. Based on your event date and specific requirements, an exact price can be obtained in the initial e-mail/telephone contact. Expect to pay extra for travel outside our area. The amount of time the piper is employed is another consideration. For example, when requesting to play at an early afternoon ceremony and an evening reception, the piper will need up to several hours or a whole day to set aside for you.

To secure your date, most pipers will request a deposit. Often this is 25-50 percent of the total amount, pretty standard in the music business.


For whatever reasons, someone in the families can be fiercely opposed to pipe music (probably never heard it done properly). Or perhaps the piper has a previous engagement and cannot make it to your ceremony. A number of clients have compromised by having me at the rehearsal dinner only. Usually this is a complete surprise to someone: bride, groom, Scottish grandma, etc. The most popular time seems to be around dessert time, or before the speeches have been made.

The usual modus operandi is to have the piper "burst" into the banquet room playing something lively and continue with a few assorted tunes to fit the occasion. Everyone'll be on their feet instantly. The fewer who know what's about to occur, the better the effect.


J. Stephen Sanders is a full-time piper located in the Memphis, TN area. He has performed at weddings and numerous events throughout the southeastern US and Scotland. His website is www.memphisbagpipes.com .

Telephone: 901-867-0220
E-mail: stevesande@aol.com

Copyright 2005 by J. Stephen Sanders


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