PipingToday’s Word: ‘Piping’ as in… Eleven Pipers Piping, on this Eleventh Day of Christmas!

Long ago and far away I played the trumpet for several hours each day. Ed Bridges, a beloved friend and musical director, had a passion for Sousa Marches. Every rehearsal and concert began with a Sousa March “just to warm up.”

In “Stars and Stripes Forever,” there’s a section that is affectionately known as “The Dog Fight.” It happens twice. You know it when you hear it. The Dog Fight is big, bold, and brassy. But there’s another section that features a piper; the piccolo. The piccolo player has a solo that is featured twice: first beginning at about 1:55, and then again at about 2:35. When you hear the high-toned descant of the piccolo/piper, there’s no missing the beautiful, powerful little refrain; it soars high above every other instrument. Finally, the band goes all in again with a repeat of “The Dog Fight” which sets up the final phrase of the march; everyone is playing like there’s no tomorrow.

Above all of this, above the tubas, trombones, French horns, trumpets, flutes, bassoons, clarinets—above every other instrument—you hear the piccolo/piper piping that beautiful, soaring descant. It’s unmistakable. It’s there. It’s steady. It’s strong.

On this Eleventh Day of Christmas I’m aware that the Christmas Story of a baby born in Bethlehem seems more like a piccolo descant than the big, brassy, melody it was eleven days ago. But Christmas Story is still being told. With the help of every piper, the Christmas Story continues to soar high above the rest of the orchestra and the crowd gathered to hear it, as well as those outside and beyond the concert hall.

So we might want to get piping. Or at least we might want to start practicing. Let’s pick up our instruments and play this powerful melody together. Who knows, there may be someone who hears this ancient, remarkable Christmas descant once again, or maybe for the first time, and wants to play along. Pipers are piping the Good News! Let’s join them!



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