Jerry Finegan
907 Northwoods Dr.
Cary, NC 27513
Selecting A Bagpiper
Experience, Quality, and an Extensive Repertoire are Critical...

Educate Yourself
When looking to hire a piper, the single most important thing you should do is to educate yourself a little about piping and to familiarize yourself with what good piping should sound like. There are plenty examples of both good and bad piping on the internet, and if you do any of the following YouTube searches, you should find a number of examples of high quality piping.
It is important to note that just because a piper has a website does not guarantee that they are a competent player of the Highland Bagpipe. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the top quality pipers do not have websites and advertise simply by word of mouth. More importantaly, know that the terms "Professional Piper" and "Competes at the Professional Level" mean totally different things. Anyone who charges money for their playing can call themselves a professional piper and so this term is not a good indicator of the quality of their playing. This is in total contrast to a bagpiper who competes at the "Professional" level and has been ranked as such by their association's grading committee. Any professional level competitor is guaranteed to be a good player. Professional level competitors are also known as "Open Pipers".

You should also know that Amazing Grace is one of the first tunes that every piper learns (along with Scotland the Brave) so knowledge of these tunes is a very poor indicator of a pipers skill. There is a very wide range of skill levels among the pipers who market themselves online, and yet quite often we charge similar rates. This brings me back to my point that educating yourself a little about piping is the best way to insure that you are satisfied with the bagpiper that you hire.

When looking to hire a bagpiper for your wedding or special event, you must balance the requirements of the performance with the expertise of the player. Bagpipers who play in the higher solo competition grades will not only have more extensive repertoires, but they will also have more experience on handling tricky performance requirements and issues. Higher grade bagpipers will also be able to tune their instruments more expertly and will have a better overall sound. The higher solo competition grades are Professional (Open), Grade I, and Grade II.

Repertoire Does this performance require a larger repertoire? For example, is the bagpiper playing over an extended time such as to welcome people as they arrive? Does the performance require playing more difficult tunes such as reels, jigs and hornpipes?

Quality of Music How good do you need the bagpiper to be? For example, is this a large formal wedding or an informal family picnic?

Complexity Does this performance require playing the bagpipes with other musicians? Does the bagpiper need to do something special during the performance?

Weather The bagpipes are a complex woodwind instrument which is greatly affected by changes in temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. If the performance requires playing outside, experienced bagpipers are better prepared to handle the challenges caused by weather (cold, hot, rainy, etc.).

Room Size If the performance involves extended playing inside a particularly small room, Scottish Smallpipes or Shuttle Pipes are ideal for when the performance calls for playing in a more intimate setting, or to provide a musical contrast to the Highland Bagpipes. On the other hand, if the room size is particularly large, such as a convention hall, I would recommend hiring more than one piper or even an entire pipe band. Additional pipers or drummers can really add to the overall performance.

When selecting a bagpiper, there are several questions that you can ask to help you determine the expertise level of the player.

Solo Bagpipe Competition Grade Bagpiping is a very competition oriented activity and almost all of the better bagpipers from North America have competed at one point in their careers. In this, piping is similar to swimming, track, figure skating, gymnastics, tennis, or golf in that the more advanced participants in each of these disciplines has been ranked competitively. Each competing bagpiper is assigned a Solo Bagpipe Competition Grade based upon their playing ability. Professional (aka Open) is the highest level solo bagpipe grade and Grade V is the lowest. When hiring a bagpiper, ask them:
  • What grade do they compete in?
  • When was the last time they competed?
  • Have they ever won a prize in that grade?
Bagpipe Band Experience Virtually all bagpipers in North America have played in a bagpipe band at one time or another, with better bagpipe players tending to migrate towards the better bands. All of the better bagpipe bands are competition bands and each of these is assigned a Bagpipe Band Competition Grade just like the solo bagpipe competitors. Grade I is the highest level bagpipe band grade and Grade V is the lowest. When hiring a bagpiper, ask them about their band experience:
  • What is the highest graded bagpipe band they have competed with?
  • How many years did they compete with that band?
  • Did they serve in a position of musical leadership such as Pipe Major or Pipe Sergeant?
Years of Experience Be aware that years of experience does not equate to quality of playing. I know of bagpipers who have only played a couple of years and who are infinitely better bagpipers than players who have been piping for forty years. The guidelines of solo and band competition experience outlined above give the best indicator of a bagpiper's playing ability.

Proper Bagpipe Instruction All of the better bagpipers became the players they are by receiving regular instruction from qualified teachers. The bagpipes are a very unique instrument with a largely oral history and cannot be self-taught because the playing technique is so drastically different from that of other instruments. It does not matter how good a musician is on other instruments, proper instruction is required to obtain even a moderate competancy on the bagpipe.

Sample Recordings Not every bagpiper for hire has a website, but if they do, look for sample recordings of them playing on their website. If they do not have a website, you can always ask for a sample tape or have them play something over the phone. Sample recordings of my playing the bagpipe can be found on my Repertoire page.

My Credentials
Please visit the About Me page to see my credentials. Thank you.

Playing my bagpipes for a wedding in South Georgia
Courtesy of Judi Reid and Created in the Image

Playing the recessional on my bagpipes for the Bride and Groom at the end of the wedding service. The Bride, Margaret Urbano Gatton is a friend mine who I worked with at Delta Air Lines.

Playing my bagpipes for the American Nurses Assocation in 1991. The bagpiper to my right is Chris Lyttle.

Playing my bagpipes at the MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, North Carolina for a birthday party.