A Scottish friend has been spotted as he was piped into a celebration gathering! The other evening I was walking the deck of a ship on the Rhine and I heard the strain of the bagpipes again. All this would be just vacuous information, however my conversation with the piper later in the evening turned my ear and memories to the role that funeral-home pipes played into my life. The piper shared her love for the pipes and her admiration for the great music they could produce. She also shared her admiration for the integration of rhythmic body movements and the heaven rendering music.
The conversation gave pause and triggered a review of my pipe organ photos gathered on the road from Zurich to den Haag. As an adolescent I remember clearly my father paying us pennies to remove the screws from wooden bellows so the leather could be replaced and the chests could hold air to play the pipes. Whenever there was an auction my father and his pied piper partner would bring home the spoils of another funeral home pipe organ. Funeral homes were upgrading to lower maintenance electronic organs. We had a basement full of pipes, bellows, mechanical harnesses and electric harnesses. Eventually a hole was cut in the floor between the basement and the main floor so that the longer pipes could be tested upright. The goal was to build “affordable” pipe organs for immigrant church communities.
Margaret and I participated in a worship service in the Fraumeister Cathedral in Zurich. The symphonic fullness produced by multiple ranks of pipes (voiced to sound a full orchestra) drew us into worship in a language that was not ours. The hymn tunes and the choruses all resoundingly triggering memory and reverberating in the cathedral.
The tuning of a pipe organ was a tedious one-pipe-at-a-time affair. I remember holding notes on the keyboard till I could hear my father say, “next.” The pipe had attained pitch and voiced in harmony with the rest of the rank. Walking into a church and hearing a voice say, “ok” and the keyboard step to the next pipe was more than just recall, it was about love for the instrument, love for the boldness, love for the gentleness and love for the possibilities. The front piece spoke of not only dueling organs, but also of a recurrent reformation.
The cathedral in Cologne has four organs (that I saw and heard). There is something almighty about reverberation in a cathedral and likely something more glorious when all the pipes in our lives sound and resound with a love for the music rather than the rules.