Offshore drilling

A few months ago I read an article called “Made in U.S.A.” in my favourite print magazine, The New Yorker. The story discussed the difficulty of finding products that are actually made in America, and to some extent bemoaned the apparent fact that Americans would rather buy cheaper goods manufactured offshore than pay more for stuff like electronics and furniture and many other things made in the United States.

The article prompted me to e-mail the magazine a quick letter-to-the-editor from the Florida beach-chair from which I was reading the article. The piece made me think of the Highland bagpipe market and the fact that over the last few decades numerous bagpipe-making businesses have started in North America, joining Dunbar of St. Catharines, Ontario, which I believe was the first maker to set up business in the colonies. John Walsh has been making fine instruments in Nova Scotia for several years now.

Cushing (New York), Gibson (Ohio), Kron (New York), MacLellan (South Carolina) and, most recently, Atherton (Illinois) are all U.S.-based makers of Highland pipes, and all of them (and Dunbar) are considered at least on par with instruments made in the United Kingdom.

My letter – which the magazine didn’t publish (those damned editors!) – made reference to the fact that all is not lost when it comes to U.S. manufacturing and craftsmanship, that there are reverse examples of North American ingenuity working to improve products and serve the world market.

This isn’t to say for a second that non-UK bagpipe makers are necessarily producing anything better than UK-made instruments, but I wonder if the UK media have ever written about Highland bagpipes being made increasingly more often on other shores.

I suppose there was a time when all pianos were made in Europe, but then that upstart Steinway set up shop in New York and conquered the concert-grand market (even though they seem to be struggling against Yamaha and Boesendorfer and the like these days). I also wonder if Yamaha, which seems to make high quality instruments of every other kind, will one day enter the Highland pipes and pipe band drum market.

Do Highland pipes “Made in Scotland” have cachet today? Do Americans, for example, prefer to buy “authentic” pipes made in the Auld Country, or, in this time of manufacturing losses, is there a preference to purchasing products made at home?


Redbird Express

Is there a more physical musical instrument than the Highland bagpipe? The “fit” of the pipe is so important to the player’s ability to perform well, and I can’t think of an instrument that conforms to the body as closely as the pipes.

When the instrument is going well, with a bag that’s perfectly sized, stocks positioned the way you want them, blowpipe just right, reed-strength and vibrancy adjusted exactly, the pipes can feel like they’re part of the player’s body. I’d think that most experienced pipers have enjoyed times – rare for most – when the pipes feel like they’re not even there. And, considering how relatively heavy the instrument is, that’s remarkable.

Such a feeling I had playing in the Medley event with Spirit of Scotland at the World’s last year. It was one of those transcending, out-of-body experiences when the pipes and music seemed just right – no nerves that I can remember, just enjoying the ephemeral moment that is music’s great allure.

In a band it can actually be a dangerous thing, enjoying one’s self so much while competing. Hopefully going on autopilot (or shifting to glide as the song with one of the worst lyrics ever says: “Hey little Donna, still wanna; You said to ring you up if I was in Toranna”) doesn’t cause such daydreaming as to forget tone, but I’d think that a sudden tonal lapse would snap you out of the trance.

I wrote before about riding a fixed-gear bike, which is what I’ve done almost daily for more than three years. I really enjoy the connection with the rig, since you have to keep peddling and use resistance on the pedals to help stop. Like a good-going well-set-up pipe, a fixed gear bike almost becomes part of your body, and when the there’s a tail-wind on a warm spring day with a glittering Great Lake on one side and a shiny set of skyscrapers on the other, the effect is, like a good-going World’s medley, transcendental.