Very few people play the Northumbrian small pipes. Even fewer are interested, and that is in Northumberland (my home county) back in England. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I found a Northumbrian Piper on Vashon to play with. There is even a North West Small Pipes Society based in Tacoma, and I get to hear them all the time. One of the best exponents of the Northumbrian Pipes, a chap called Ian Lawther, moved to Seattle a couple of years ago, and I caught up with Ian at a strange tartan celebration in Puyallup, of all places. Ian has a business selling piping CDs, and was doing a brisk trade when I stopped by his booth.
I've always wanted to play this instrument, but it is probably one of the hardest to master. In order to play a note, you have to lift a finger off the hole (or key). In order to play another note, you have to close the previous hole before opening up the new one, which is what gives the pipes and the music that is written for them, their distinct staccatto sound. My ever patient wife tracked some down a few years ago and gave them to me for one of my birthdays. Since then, I have successfully failed to get a tune out of them, and they lie in their case gathering dust bunnies.
One of Alex's heros, is the former Northumbrian Piper I mentioned at the beginning of this ramble. Piper John, as he is known to Alex, has been encouraging him to try. Last week, after getting out of his bath, (Alex, that is), he loudly proclaimed that he was going to be a Mommy Piper. We set about getting him kitted up so he could at least have some chance of success with one of those ambitions. The pipes are too big for him yet, but at the rate he is growing, he'll be playing at the sessions in no time.