Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Piper not Pied (story of an interview)

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.

11 Responses to Piper not Pied (story of an interview)

  1. The last time I heard bagpipes… was when my dad passed away, at the gravesite when a Navy Corpsman played Amazing Grace, and I fell apart……..

  2. Seventy-five degrees. Wow. I’m moving out of Boston. Not to Texas, mind you, just someplace warmer than Boston.

  3. That was very cool. It’s impossible not to notice something like that, especially when you stumble upon it so unexpectedly.

    What was even more jarring for me was to read “75 degrees outside on a lovely February afternoon.” I’m all like, it’s 10 below freezing up here man! Shut up already!

    And for Dave, there is no more stirring song on this whole Earth than to hear Amazing Grace on the pipes. To hear the first number of bars kicked off by the lone piper, followed by a rolling thunder of the drum corps, and then the wash of emotion that envelopes you as the massed pipes join in to accompany the soloist.

    I feel I have to share a favourite quote from a favourite book that is one of the only I’ve ever read that does justice to describing the bagpipes:

    “Then a desolate, mammoth, mourning Troll inflated its lungs and uttered. Through the shocked air tore a stern, snoring shriek followed by another. It became a united bray; the bray a wobble; the wobble a tune. High above the gallery balustrade swam a human head, inhumanly antennaed; the cheeks plimmed, the eyes closed, the fingers leaped, and all audible hell released itself.”

    (A Game of Kings, Dorothy Dunnett)

  4. I have noting so cool to say as Simon’s quote. But then…he pretty much just walks around hoping someone brings up bagpipes so he can whip little gems like that one out.

    I will say that the recordings are hypnotic. And it’s cool to listen as you awkwardly chat the guy up. I’d have done no better, so it was comforting to come along on that ride with you.

    There’ s guy who plays saxophone at a stop light on my drive home when the weather’s nice. He’s got his case open like he expects people to give him money for his show, but he’s too far off the road to pay him while driving and no one walks where he stands. Plus…he’s just horrible. I often wonder if he all right…mentally. But he seems to be enjoying himself and he’s become a pleasant diversion on my commute.

    Oh yeah…we were in the 60s yesterday. Not quite your 70s…but sure beats the snot out of our poor frozen Si-sicle

  5. Dave – Yesterday I got the funniest comment in a while, and today I got the most touching. I hope the clips didn’t make you sad.

    Rhea – Thanks for commenting. I love where I live because it’s where our little family is, but Texas would not be my choice at all.

    Simon – I intentionally pointed out the weather. Today I had the top down when I ran an errand at lunch, and I was a little hot. It was 82 degrees and very sunny.

    Great quote about bagpipes. From what I’ve heard, it’s dead on. I must say, Spock’s funeral in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan wouldn’t have been as moving without the bagpipes. Oh, wait, spoiler alert. Everybody knew Spock died, right?

    Moksha – I had a couple more minutes of his playing, but that particular song was a bit repetitious. The interview was rushed because I needed to go ahead and get Ben’s prescription.

    Were I nearby your drive to/from work, I would have to talk to the sax guy for sure.

  6. Moksha, I don’t ALWAYS have a quote ready to hand for random situations, but I do have a little black book wherein I scribble whatever quotes I come across that I deem poignant enough to keep. Quotes and random thoughts that don’t make it onto my own site.

    Mark, that funeral scene seriously chokes me up every single time I see it. When Kirk finishes with, “… and the most… human,” I just lose it. If only the rest of the movies could have lived up to the bar set by that one.

  7. Simon – Oh yes, one of the most touching moments in film, period. And uttered by William Shatner. Whoda thought? My wife, distinctly NOT a fan of the original series, was a blubbering fool by the time ST2 ended. Lots of heart-wrenchiness in the final scenes.

  8. Dr. Spock died??? Holy crap. Glad I got my kids raised before this shocker.
    Mark, thanks so much for sharing all this coolness. And Simon’s quote was such a nice addition. When I was small, my uncle had bagpipes which had belonged to his own father. I remember begging him to play. It was such a treat.
    Dave, you have me remembering when my father died. There was a twenty-one gun salute that affected me in a way I will never forget. Each gunshot penetrated every bone in my body. I can hardly imagine the effect of the sound of the pipes at such a somber occasion.
    I live in such an unexciting area. The most interesting thing I see during the course of the day is… well…. um. Never mind. There is nothing comparable….

  9. Well, guys, are we going to forgive Linda for that?

    Our dear La La, Spock was, and forever shall be, Mr. Spock. Not Dr. Spock. That guy you referred to wrote some books about childcare.

    As far as your last comment? I hear you have some pretty exciting areas.

  10. Nah…. it just got me thinking is all.

    Thanks for asking though…

  11. I bought a set of bagpipes last year for $100. (The handmade wood case if probably worth twice that.) Being a person who dabbles with different instruments yet only ever had lessons with the bass, I thought I could teach my self a little something. Ha! Maybe I’ll record that someday and use it on Halloween to scare the little goblins.


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