Travelling with any instrument requires plenty of care and attention, but travelling with bagpipes requires you to go the extra mile to avoid damaging your most prized possession.
You’ll need to do everything possible to make the rides smooth and the journeys kind to your bagpipes, so here are 8 great tips for travelling with your bagpipes, from cleaning pipes to keeping an eye on the weather...
1. Keep Your Bag Efficient
On paper, how a bagpipe actually works is relatively straightforward. As long as the air pressure is maintained, all should be well. A piper that looks like he’s doing the ‘Funky Chicken’ with overzealous pumping to keep the bag inflated may actually have an air leak.
There are a number of areas where leaks occur, some more common than others. Periodical inspection of the drone reeds, blowpipe valves, stocks, seals and of course and the bag itself will ensure a healthy bag.
I have heard of pipers holding their pipes underwater to look for bubbles rising from the airbag. This is certainly not recommended, at the very least this will result in cracked drones and a stiff hide bag.
2. Keep Your Pipes Healthy
Only a few years ago, a piper sadly died from a lung disease known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as ‘bagpipe lung’. Evidence led doctors to believe that the disease was triggered by a ‘collection of fungi’ living in the bagpipes.
Needless to say, a pretty rare case, but this highlights the need to keep all parts as clean as possible especially after a performance.
In a cold damp climate, for example, moisture often condenses inside the chanter which should be swabbed put after every performance.
3. Keep an Eye on the Weather
Bagpipes are robust, built to take knocks and can cope with diverse weather conditions around the world.
Scotland and the Highlands are renowned for a damp, wet climate, so there is a need for protection. A second affordable set of pipes made offshore for raining days is a good move for outdoor pipers, especially when it looks like it’s literally going to rain on your parade.
4. Squeeze in Practice Time
Some hardened players say it takes seven years and seven generations to become a true piper. A good teacher is essential to jump on bad habits and mistakes. Practising just with the chanter is fine, but finding a location to rehearse with a full set of pipes often means searching for a suitable location.
Bagpipes are pretty loud, with a decibel level peaking around 111 outside and up to 116 indoors, which is like a revving a chainsaw in your front room. Aside from the advised need for hearing protection, it's recommended no more than 15 mins rehearsal a day indoors and 24 mins outside and think about your poor neighbours if you are rehearsing at home with a full set of pipes...
5. Exercise in Your Breaks
Circular breathing is, of course, vital to be able to play the bagpipes, a task that can be undertaken just about any place where it doesn’t matter if you look like a hungry hamster with puffed up cheeks.
Walking at a leisurely pace is not going to improve your wind, but physical, strenuous exercise will. Not only that, but it’s also important for a healthy heart and lungs, there’s no excuse, get around that track.
6. Check Regulations
Most of us by now are aware of the new laws and regulations of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) when travelling overseas with bagpipes built from the likes of African blackwood and Ivory and many other exotic hardwoods.
Details are too deep to mention in this article, so it’s highly recommended that you swat up on these limitations before travelling abroad with our pipes.
7. Pick The Right Case
A dodgy subject for any musician. How many times have we heard about damage to our precious instruments during a flight?
If you play the ukulele you are in with a chance of storing it in the overhead lockers, but what about bagpipes?
Pipes don’t like the sub-zero temperatures in the hold. A compact case specifically designed for bagpipes like the Fusion Urban Series Bagpipe is essential. Lightweight and robust, the Fusion bagpipe gig bag relieves all the stress and worry when travelling with your precious pipes, which are snug and cosy and well protected within an inside 20mm foam padded shell. And, if you want to ‘hike and pipe’, there’s a separate rain cover included - and it fits in the overhead!
8. Love Your Pipes
We wouldn’t like to be left in a bag, gathering dust in a cupboard or on the back seat of a hot car?
If gigs are low on the ground right now, play and clean your pipes regularly to keep them in top working order on the road. Don’t take them for granted.
Love your pipes.