Since we moved to Asheville from Texas over ten years ago, I have played the highland bagpipes for about 15 weddings per year, which amounts to over 150 weddings. During that time, I have formed some opinions about how the highland pipes can best be used for wedding ceremonies, which I offer for your consideration.
1. The Volume of Sound. Unique for a woodwind instrument, the highland pipes are consistently loud, producing over 90 decibels of sound at a range of less than 20 feet. That being said, the harmonic blend of the chanter and drones usually fills most church sanctuaries quite nicely. So don't feel like you have to put the bagpiper *outside* if the ceremony will be in a church sanctuary. One of my favorite wedding tunes is Highland Cathedral, which sounds great inside a large church.
2. Timing and Presentation. Most often I am asked to play at the beginning and end of wedding ceremonies. The highland pipes are a great ceremonial instrument, with a bright and vibrant tone. In my experience, the dramatic effect of the bagpipes can be diminished, however, by having the piper play too much pre-ceremony music. So, if you want to have pipes played before the ceremony, I would suggest a shorter time period, like 10 to 15 minutes. If you cannot conceive of less than 30 minutes of pre-ceremony music, then I would suggest using other music during that time -- like an organist or string ensemble.
3. Playing with Other Musicians. Sometimes other musicians are hired for a wedding, and sometimes I am the only music. If you want both highland pipes and other instruments played as pre-ceremony music, what works best is to have us alternate and play separately. The highland pipes are pitched slightly higher than orchestral instruments, so extra effort is required to change the reeds and lower the pitch to be in tune with a classical ensemble. I think this diminishes the overall sound of the highland pipes, and it usually requires extra rehearsal time for all of the musicians. I have played with other musicians at times, but it requires some extra effort, which will be reflected in the price that I quote for the event.
4. The Procession. For many weddings there is a party of people whom you will want to process into the ceremony as the first order of business. This usually includes grandparents, parents, bridesmaids and groomsmen. My primary word of advice here is to keep it moving. If you have a wedding planner, most will know to do this and do a good job of it. If you can get everyone into place during the processional in five minutes - with due consideration for slow-moving grandparents - then there is no reason to take 15 or 20 minutes for the procession, which I have seen happen many times for no apparent reason. Many of your guests will have already been in their seats for 15 or 20 minutes *before* the ceremony begins. So don't make them wait too long before they get to see what they came for -- you getting married!
5. The Music. The most frequent communication I have with clients before the wedding concerns what music I will play before, during, and after the ceremony. Please see the "Music" page on this website, which lists various tunes, and sets of tunes, that I most often play for weddings. If there is another tune you have in mind that is not listed, please let me know and I will be happy to try to fulfill your request. Please understand that the highland pipes has a nine-note scale, so the range of music that can be played is limited. Often what happens is that a client will select a tune for the bride's march and then ask me to choose the music for the processional and recessional, which is perfectly fine.