Bagpiping Mama

by Lynn MacRitchie

I’m a bagpiping mamma. Literally. I stay at home with my two children, and am an active bagpiper. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

I grew up with all things Scottish: my ancestry was drilled into me from an early age, I studied in Edinburgh and listened to Simon Fraser while my friends were bopping to Madonna.

Later on I was married, (piped down the aisle, of course), and started a promising corporate career. Ideas of playing the bagpipe myself were shelved. Until the arrival of our first child and the decision for me to become a stay-at-home mom.

I found the transition from power suits to sweat suits difficult, to say the least, and lightning finally struck: this was the right time. What could be more soothing to a newborn than the melodic harmonies of a beginning bagpiper?

I found a teaching band within a hundred miles of my house, and happily signed up for weekly lessons. Gas was a lot cheaper then. After a year on the practice chanter, I graduated to a full set of Great Highland Bagpipes.

I was hot and heavy into practicing for my band audition, when we learned I was pregnant with our second child. (Apparently I had been hot and heavy in other areas as well). I passed my audition, and since kilts are adjustable, was able to continue playing.

That all changed at the grand opening of a restaurant. I was six months along, happily playing for an audience, when I went into premature labor. Later my OB told me that the pressure exerted to play my instrument was much too similar to the bearing down done in real labor. Needless to say, I was banned from the pipes until after delivery.

Our second child arrived happy and healthy and with a strong distaste for the bagpipe. Our first fell asleep to the Black Watch, but this one became a Tasmanian Devil at the first sound of a drone. To put it mildly, shuffling a toddler, a newborn and rehearsals was rough. My husband was as helpful as he could be, but given his extensive travel schedule, there was only so much he could do on the home front.

He was the Drum Major of the band, and while you might think that would make competitions easier, it didn’t. Most times both of us were busy—at opposite ends of the venue. We either left our children with known-extortionist babysitters or in the band tent. Other band members were happy to watch them, but my maternal side dug a hole in my stomach whenever I wasn’t with them myself. Plus, at a Highland Festival, once can’t get away from the sound of bagpipes, and my youngest was never happy. The pipers didn’t appreciate her screeching harmonies either.

Eventually I joined a band closer to home, and for a couple of years was much happier with the shorter commute and more serious outlook.. I loved the people in my first band, but I was ready to take my piping to the next level.

There were lots of intense practices with the new gang, and my piping certainly improved, if I do say so myself. However, I discovered that pipe bands are political beasts, made up of a huge range of personalities. I had been lucky enough to make several good friends, but in the end, the in-fighting wore me down. I relished the regular break from my children, but at the worst point, going to rehearsal was worse than my kids fighting over Legos. Call me a fair weather member if you must, but I left the band for the sake of my sanity.

Today, I happily perform as a soloist throughout the local school system, and for the occasional private event. Seeing a child’s first reaction to the bagpipe is amazing. Most plug their ears, but sometimes there is one who leans forward, eyes blazing, and practically vibrates off his seat.

Perhaps I’ll join a competition band again someday, but for now, exposing kids to the music of the bagpipe is enough for me.

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Pregnant Piping
by: Megan

Thanks so much for the mama blog. There are so few resources for female bagpipers/woodwind players who are expecting. I've been piping through my pregnancy, but at the last practice (27 weeks along) it felt really difficult. Later in the week, I had a little spotting. While the baby is safe (Thank you, Lord!) and it's unlikely that the playing caused it, I feel horribly guilty and selfish for continuing to play so long.

Musician and Author
by: Anonymous

Hi Lynn,

I loved your story, your sense of humor and your great enthusiasm. Memories of you when I knew you in your younger days in your home town still touch my heart! Would love to see your smile again, and hear you play the bagpipes sometime!

And, please continue your writing.


That's commitment!
by: Anonymous

Lynn, You forgot to mention the joy your whole family gets listening to you play. There is nothing better than Happy Birthday on the pipes! Rmember my 60th is coming up soon...Martha

kilts and kids
by: Karen Lin

Hi Lynn,

Loved the article and your writing. I learned something - never would have thought piping would put the same stress on you as would bearing down - are women pipers more likely to have prolapsed uterus? -- sorry :)

I laughed out loud at "known-extortionist babysitters"

I'd love to see an article on the parallels between corporate America and piping.

Karen Lin

Lynn I love your story
by: David

As the owner of this web site, I would just like to say how delighted I am to have received this wonderful story.

Thank you Lynn for sharing it with us.

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