"Frequently Asked Questions"

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions which mostly reflect frequent assumptions that people have made about doing business with me. I have had to field these questions many times since I began pursuing the bagpipe as a full-time occupation. Most are legitimate. Some are surprisingly hard to answer in a sentence or two. Often the answer is simply kept short because the long answer is more information than anyone could possibly imagine.  Some of the answers here are what I thought at the time (in parenthesis) but deferred nonetheless to a short polite answer trying very hard not to be a smart ass. I think that it is these, more than anything else that are the reason why this website exists: To educate the public. To illuminate the nebulous, dark, mythic, mysterious world of the bagpipe, and to dispel some of the myths and erroneous assumptions the general public makes. I swear they have all been taken from my real-life, everyday experience, and I hope you will enjoy some of the laughs as I have.

Q: What is it that you do?

A: (Like “Ace Ventura:” I am a full-time, free-lance piper for all kinds of occasions: weddings, funerals, golf tournaments, corporate functions, birthday parties, bachelor parties, anniversaries, memorials, family reunions/ clan gatherings, business conventions, even a multicultural interfaith service. When not doing that, I’m involved in a busy competitive solo schedule and an award-winning Grade III pipe band as well as my own experimental music band, Gael Warning. What did you have in mind?) I play the Highland Bagpipe. Please see The Nature of the Beast.


Q: Do you have certain songs or a set routine that you play?

A: (Well, what do you have in mind?) I try to customize music for every performance as much as is possible.  


Q: You wear a quilt, right?

A: Yes, I wear a KILT for all of my performances, public and private.


Q: Do you wear a kilt when you play?

A: (Of course I do. Don’t be stupid!) Of course I do; don’t be silly.


Q: What do you wear under that? (curiously, it is more often that otherwise seemingly normal heterosexual men, who strive to not be goofy in every other facet of their lives, manage to ask this in the most awkward situations more often than women.)

A: (Are your hands warm? [for the ladies] Why do you care? [for the men] Is that the only question you can come up with to make a point of conversation? What would you think if I were to ask you about the status of your underwear? By the way since you asked: shoes and socks.) Shoes and socks.


Q: Are you Scottish?

A: (With a last name like McKenzie, what do you think? I’m wearing a kilt and I’ve gone to a lot of effort, and expense in time and money to do this professionally, what do you think the motivating factor has been?) Yes…Thank you for noticing.


Q: Are you Irish?

A: (On my mother’s side. Of course, I’m Scottish on my mother’s side also, of course they were actually Scotch-Irish plantation people from Donegal, before they came here to the Carolinas, so does it count?) Yes...on my mother’s side…thank you for noticing.


Q: Have you ever heard of the “Highland Games? or, more frequently, You know, there’s a Scottish festival up in the mountains somewhere (as if it’s news to me) near Asheville, I think. Do you go there?

A: (HEARD of them? Hell, I play at them all the time. I travel to as many as 10-12 in one year to compete in both solo and band competitions. It’s where all of my formative years in pipe bands were spent.) Yes. I play with the Grandfather Mountain Highlanders Pipe Band.


Q: So how’s that thing work? How do you make that thing play? How do you do that?

A: Blow. Squeeze. Play. No, at the same time.  No, not all EXACTLY at the same time. You have to coordinate the three activities...Well, it’s complicated.

Please see The Nature of the Beast for the long answer.


Q: How do you tell a good piper/ bagpipe from a bad one?

A: Please see the “What you’re paying for…” section of How to Hire a Piper. See also The Nature of the Beast.


Q: I know pipers can’t go for much more than a few minutes. How long can you play?

A: (Who told you that? Well, I know my practices have been lasting for at least an hour or more lately, just for my solo work…and I’ve endured many a pipe band practice over the years now that have averaged 3-4 hours at a time. What did you have in mind?) An hour or more without a break is no problem.


Q: Have you been playing a long time?

A: I have been playing for over 21 years now.


Q: Is it a hard to learn/ play?

A: (Well, that depends on who you ask. There are people who pick up this instrument and are truly gifted at it- my teacher is one of them- there are people who pick up this instrument and some of it is easy, but to excel at it takes a lifetime of dedication, hard work, perseverance, and tenacity and then they may only expect average results from their work. And then there are those for whom all the best intentions, devotion, practice, and diligence in their effort in piping will pay nothing. For the Lord or Mother Nature has not given them whatever it is that makes a piper.) Well, I guess nothing’s hard if you enjoy it! or I guess you get out of it what you put into it. The naked truth is the bagpipe is more difficult than most instruments because of the huge number of variables that affect the performance of the instrument and player. That, and the technique is unique to the instrument and harder to learn in adulthood with a few exceptions every now and then. Please see Learning to Play the Pipes.  


Q: Did you take any lessons or is it pretty easy to just pick up and learn/ play?

A: Refer to answer above, and Learning to Play the Pipes.


Q: I want to learn to play the bagpipes. How can I get one? You teach bagpipes?

A: (Well, you don’t need one right now since you don’t actually learn on the bagpipe for about the first 6 months with the quickest learners to a year or more with most adults.) Yes, I teach 4 days a week. See Learning to play the Pipes.


Q: What kind of music do y’all play?

A: Bagpipe music. Please see Light Music and Piobaireachd on this website. See also The Nature of the Beast and How to hire a Piper.


Q: They have written music for bagpipes?

A: (Of course they do. Don’t be stupid!) Of course there is. Don’t be silly.


Q: Do you play for weddings? (from a soon-to-be bride who found my name in a bridal magazine)

A: Yes. Please see Wedding Services.


Q: Do you play for funerals? (from someone who found me through a funeral service listing)

A: Yes. Please see Memorial Services.


Q: Wow! That really is loud. Can you turn that down? Is there anyway you can play quietly?

A: Yes and no. Please see The Nature of the Beast for a more thorough answer.  


Q: Do you take any requests? We have our hearts set on (tune X) and really want you to play it at our event/ service.

A: Yes and no. Please see the "Tone & Tuning" section of The Nature of the Beast.


Q: What can you play by (Composer X)?

A: I can play most things but not all things. Refer to the "Tone & Tuning" section of The Nature of The Beast.


Q: What does all that stuff (referring to the whole kilt ensemble) mean?

A: (It is all based on a British system of measurement and gentlemen's fashion, with a historical precedent for most of its appointments.) It’s based on traditional men’s clothing, with a large military influence. 


Q: We’re afraid that it will be too loud inside, so we’re going to have you play outside instead; that’ll be okay, won’t it? (often facing either below 60 or above 90 degree temperatures and/or rain)

A: (You obviously have no understanding of “The Nature of the Beast!”) Sure, I’ll do my best. Please refer to the "Playing Conditions" section of The Nature of the Beast.


Q: Are you available on (date) for (event)? Great. We’ll need you to start it with the National Anthem.

A: (Uh, Okay. “How about God Bless America?”  Well, it’s only the simple fact the National Anthem doesn’t work at all on the bagpipe. It’s two octaves at least!…It’s lots of sharps and flats…Gimme a break…) The American National Anthem? Okay…may I suggest or recommend another patriotic tune? Please refer to the "Tone & Tuning" section of The Nature of the Beast.


Q: Can you fade out there rather than stopping so abruptly? Why not?

A: No. Please refer to the "Handling & Performance" section of The Nature of the Beast.


Q: Can you fade in there rather than starting the way you did? Why not?

A: No. Please refer to the "Handling & Performance" section of The Nature of the Beast.


Q: Do you play any other instruments?

A: Yes; some basic drum kit and percussion, pennywhistle, the didgeridoo, and the Shakuhachi.