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Why is Bagpiping a Custom for Funerals?

Published: May 30, 2022

Looking for a special and unique way to honor your loved one at their funeral or memorial service?

Bagpipes are the perfect addition for any military, police, EMS, and civilian funerals. The instrument has a particularly mournful sound that makes it perfect for "Amazing Grace" and other hymns and can provide a comforting and meaningful tribute.

So, how did it become a custom for funerals in the first place?

We asked our dear friend, Mill Hall resident and Air Force veteran Sergeant John MacMillen. He’s our exclusive bagpiper for Roupp Funeral Home and has been playing for local funerals and other events since Dec 2003.

John states that, “Bagpipes came to America because of the Potato Famine in Ireland. The Irish were not welcome to our country and no one wanted them as employees. As a result the Irish were destined to dangerous jobs like policemen and firemen. It was the Celtic tradition that bagpipes be part of a funeral service and played at all police and firefighters funerals. Through the years, the Great Highland Bagpipes have been accepted at any and all funerals.”

As John also mentions, “The bagpipes have some limitations that make playing them difficult. The instrument is very physical and has only 9 notes to work with. That limits the songs or tunes that can be played. The pipes are sensitive to weather conditions and are apt to go out of tune below 40 degrees. Playing graveside funerals during the winter months can be very challenging.”

And as many already may have guessed, the most requested tune is Amazing Grace. But, did you also know it symbolizes leading the soul to heaven's edge? Making it the perfect tune for any funeral. John, as well as most bagpipers, can play almost any tune that is requested by family, and it doesn't necessarily need to be sad as some families want to honor their loved ones as they lived. Incorporating bagpipes can bring a whole new meaning to a funeral service where life is celebrated.

Bagpipers dress in kilts and doublets, the traditional highland attire. Long ago, this attire served multiple purposes by not only providing excellent protection from the weather and elements, but it also served to cover and guard weapons such as muskets and could be removed and used as a camping blanket. Bagpipers today still wear this as the required uniform. They also make sure to follow proper protocol for police, firefighters, civilians while also working alongside honor guards for military funerals.

John states, “I am proud and honored to perform at services as it provides honor, reverence and it touches the soul in a way that is comforting. I have played for high profile funerals with thousands present and very small funerals. The effect for me and those who mourn are the same.”

Have an event and would like to hire John directly? Book here!

Looking to add bagpiping to your loved one’s funeral service? Contact us directly at Roupp Funeral Home: 570-966-2402

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