On my way Tuesday to pick up a prescription for Ben, I have the top down. It’s about 75 degrees outside on a lovely February afternoon. My music selection? De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising. I have the Sebring bumpin’ (which is, in itself, almost an anachronism). Just “Me, Myself and I.”
Then, I’m jarred out of the 21st century by something much older than I or the average person who drives my car.
In the parking lot of (coincidentally enough) an abandoned pharmacy, stands a man playing bagpipes. He’s wearing a polo style shirt and
jeans shorts. Anyone who’s ever stood within 15 feet of a bagpipe player knows that I can hear him just fine. Nevertheless, I turn off Prince Paul and guest Q-Tip to get a better idea of what he’s playing. I don’t recognize the song, and I don’t know what makes a good bagpipe performance, but those are my own shortcomings.
The point for me is that the guy is in the middle of Plano, Texas playing bagpipes at innocent passersby.
As I pull into the busy intersection’s left turn lane, I raise my hands and applaud. He looks my way and I give him a thumbs-up. I don’t know how appropriate that is to bagpipe playing, but it’s better than the Arsenio Hall arm-pump and accompanying “roo-roo.”
Does anyone know a different word for “bagpipe?” I feel like I’m using it a lot here.
I turn around and come back, park a few spaces down from where he stands playing, and pull out my recorder. I’m reminded of my days as a photojournalist/reporter, when I rushed up to a scene to capture at least some part of its essence before it was over.
The big difference? It’s easier to be inconspicuous with a small recorder and microphones than with a big Nikon.
In this first clip, I’m still sitting in my car with the top down. The piper moves from my left, around the back of the car to my right.
I get out and walk over slowly, approaching him from behind. He’s reading from sheet music in a black spiral flip-folder on his car’s trunk lid. Using a technique that blows this brass player’s mind, he belts out an unending line of notes that requires no stop for breath. The bag is his lung.
This proximity gives my equipment (set at low sensitivity) a chance to pick up all the notes at each end of the range.
A bit out of practice at approaching a stranger to capture a piece of his or her life, I try not to fidget as I stand there letting the recorder do its work. As he turns my way, still playing, I step within three feet of him. With absolutely no idea what I’m going to say, I speak.
Like an idiot fan boy.
Then, a man who lives in his neighborhood drives up and tells him what he thinks of his playing. Note that neither man sounds like he’s from Texas. (might need to turn this up a little)
The piper agrees to let me use his full name, which in case you missed it is Rafe Aalderink (all drink). He plays with a group and as a soloist at various occasions, including Burns’ Night, as well as competitions in four states.
Notes on the recording: The traffic noise to my left during the blinterview (I think I made up that word) didn’t do my recorder justice. Being a cheaper machine, it doesn’t offer any level adjustments, just high and low sensitivity. So, when the bagpipes stopped, the traffic became the loudest sound within range and the recorder adjusted itself to that. Nevertheless, it produced a fairly accurate sonic image of the event (edited to eliminate a few of my distracting utterances of the word “cool,” and once when Rafe said, “uuuhhhhh” while thinking what to say next. More discriminating ears will notice the cuts, almost impossible to make seamless with that traffic noise.) Equipment used: Olympus DS-20 (available with less memory as the DS-2), Core Sound Low Cost Binaural Mics.