Piper, Pipe That Song Again

We were put to bed early. My mother, the registered nurse, believed strongly in things like scrubbing away germs and getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes we could still hear neighborhood children playing outside while we lay in bed with our baths taken, teeth brushed, and prayers said.

Downstairs my mother watched detective shows and my father graded papers in another room with the stereo turned low. I could hear strains of his music mixed with her TV sirens through the floorboards.

I was never what is called a good sleeper. I would lie awake for hours telling myself stories. Sometimes, halfway asleep, I could hear impossibly faraway music and watch scenes unfold like a life retelling itself. I wondered where they came from, these distracting snippets that almost seemed like distant memories. Some were so strong I could feel them in my body. In fact, as a young child I was sure I could “remember” having died and for years could only fall asleep curled defensively to protect my ribs and throat.

Music brought the strongest sense of recollection. My mother says the first time I heard the distinctive sound of bagpipes I was a preschooler. “You put your arms up like one of those highland dancers,” she says, “and you danced your little heart out.”

I didn’t encounter bagpipe music again until I was about eight years old. Hearing the strains of those grand pipes in a parade made feel as if I could almost recall dancing in a majestic hall with the stirring of pride that no danger could stifle. The music seemed to speak to my cells all the way to the marrow. It kept on speaking as the pipers marched by and the music faded away.

Since I had been warned about my overactive imagination I didn’t mention those half-remembered scenes. But I did pester my mother about bagpipes.

“It’s funny you are so interested in that music,” she said. “We don’t have any Scottish blood in our family.”

An apparent coincidence? The fact that our last name happened to be Piper. My mother said she thought the name had been changed from a German surname, Pfeiffer, many generations back.

* * *

As an adult I have no idea where those so-called memories came from. Most likely I was creating stories that seemed real to me. There are, however, other explanations. Morphic resonance, archetypal images, echoes of past lives.

Another intriguing possibility is genetic or ancestral memory. Because, as it turns out my maiden name, Piper, is Scottish after all. Recently our history was traced, and we know now that my father’s family tree is rooted securely in the soil of Scotland. Not a German branch to be found. In fact, we are related to legendary bagpipers as well as to some oddly-named royalty including Malcolm the Big-Headed.

These days I am surrounded by bagpipe music. My two teenage sons are in a pipe band, the Red Hackle Pipes and Drums, under the direction of Sandy Hain, a former Pipe Major of Scotland’s Black Watch. I drive the boys and their buddies in the band to practices, parades, and highland competitions; my car overflowing with an odd mix of testosterone, exuberant conversation, and hairy knees jutting out from kilts.

Every week when I pull into the lot for bagpipe practice I see bumper stickers and window decals proudly proclaiming the drivers’ pride in calling him or herself by my family name: Piper. Even on the coldest evenings the sound pours through the brick walls. And every single time I feel the music in my cells, all the way to the marrow.

And yes, I still hear it in my dreams.

Angus MacKay of Clam MacKay artist unknown

Angus MacKay of Clan MacKay
(artist unknown)


Throwback post. This piece was originally published in Bewildering Stories. 

25 thoughts on “Piper, Pipe That Song Again

  1. Laura, I experience a pull regarding Scotland, which I attribute to having had a previous lifetime there in the 1800’s. It may sound whacky, but there are some people who can access the Akashic Records and can tell you some things about other lifetimes. Maybe that is what is happening with you.😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having a healthy dose of Clan McPherson blood, I’m with you on the inexplicable pull of pipe music. I had a piper for my 21st birthday, a hairy-kneed, nearly 7ft tall friend of a friend, who rocked up in full regalia and caused a bit of a stir amongst my female friends even before he started to play. Even now, a well played lament can reduce me to tears, and a really well executed pibroch is one of the most exciting sounds I know. I’m not sure about ancestral memory, but I do think a good splash of Scottish blood tunes the brain to appreciate pipe music.

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  3. Love this post, I have the same emotional response to the pipes and a strong tie to Scotland that calls to my very soul. My mom immigrated to Canada when she was a child so I have always known I’m a Scot, but it’s only been in the past 10 years that I feel this longing when I hear the pipes playing. So nice to read that I’m not alone with this.
    Thank you,


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, dear Laura!

    LOVE this piece, your associations with bagpipe music, with music in general. Thanks for including the video. Emma attended Wooster, where they’re all about the bagpipe. Her graduation ceremony was particularly stirring with this music. I’m so glad you found out about your roots. Your cells carry the vibrations of those ancient strains! Awesome!

    I have experienced a similar must-have-lived-during-that-time sensation every time I listen to Medieval music. Lutes, recorders, sackbuts, crumhorns and all the percussion instruments used — all of them send me to some amazing place where I feel safe, comfortable, blissful. Sometime, I would like to experience past life regression hypnosis.

    Anyway, thanks for these thought-provoking posts. Thinking of you with love, Amy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Music is a sort of pathway isn’t it? Just as people with aphasia can often still sing, I think music taps into a part of ourselves beyond language, beyond the mind, into a felt experience that transcends what we think of as normal memory.

      Now I have to go google “sackbuts” and “crumhorn.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m quietly obsessed with Baroque music too. Have been known to swoon over François Couperin compositions. Scrimp to buy tickets to see Cleveland’s Apollo’s Fire whenever possible. I, however, know very little about it.

        Thanks to you, now I can identify a crumhorn:

        and a sackbut!


  5. Life is so synchronistically amazingly weird sometimes. While I was at my local library yesterday for “A Bonnie Afternoon in Scotland for Wee Lads and Lasses” with my wee lasses, we were listening to a piper play with a Celtic harpist singing Gailic, and it nearly brought me to tears. I just felt the music to my bones. Some of my ancestry is with Clan Elliot, an Anglo-Scottish border clan that fought with Robert the Bruce, and it made me think of past lives and wonder how that music might live in me somehow. I love that I read this today. ❤


  6. Oh neat! I did not see that! I’ll have to tell my librarian who sees him often. (The librarian bagpiper whose name is Ian – Librar-Ian. Sorry, I can’t resist. Lol! Alright… off to rock out to Celtic rock while I get some cleaning done.)

    Liked by 1 person

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