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Cool Jobs Q&A: Bagpiper

How do you become a bagpiper? The answer may just be blowing in the wind.


 
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Photograph by Andrew Tolson

 

GEORGE COOMBES, 65

  • Bagpiper, Peggy’s Cove, N.S.
  • Average yearly income: $5,000+ (seasonal from June to October 31)

How did you get into this field?

I’m a woodworker by trade. Things have slowed down in recent years. Fifteen years ago, I started this hobby. My daughter, when she was 14, decided to learn to play and joined a local band for three years. Then she was ready for university and she gave it up. I had all the tunes in my head and pipes in the corner.

What education or skills do you have?

I have high school. One night I was looking at continuing education, and there was a lady in Halifax offering to teach the pipes one night a week for 10 weeks. I did that for two years, then started private lessons.

Describe a typical day on the job.

Around 9 a.m. I tune up and wait for people to come. I play until about 11:30 and I’ll take a little break. I come back and play until about 3:00.

What is your most memorable day?

I’ve had people very moved by the pipes. I’ve had grown men cry in front of me. One of the young soldiers who lost his life in Afghanistan, his father was down this summer and he had the bonnet of a car painted up with his son’s picture on it. And he asked me if I would stand by it and play Amazing Grace while he recorded it. It brought it all home, to stand there and see that man and the pain he carries with him.

What are the pros and cons?

It’s good practice. My piping has improved quite a bit. And it’s just fascinating to meet people from different cultures. It’s physically demanding, the weather can be an issue sometimes, and I don’t have any control over how much I make, because it’s all gratuities.

What advice would you give to someone interested in this job?

I’ve got a certain work ethic to go down there and do this. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. You’ve really got to stay with it and want to be there.


 
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