Sometimes I’m asked what is the most important trait a person should have in order to be a good piper. I tell them straight: you need to be able to spend a lot of time by yourself. That’s not the answer they expect. They want, “You have to have The Music!” or “There’s no substitute for great fingers!” or “Your name has to start with ‘Mac.’” They don’t expect, “It’s good if you’re an introvert.”
You don’t absolutely need to be an introvert — I’ve known lots of very outgoing people who were great pipers — but it sure helps. I’m speaking here as an introvert. Given the choice between two hours in the bar with the boys, or an evening at home puttering around with piping stuff and watching a period of the hockey game, there’s no choice, depending of course on who the boys are and how long it’s been since I last saw them. Given the choice between spending one evening a week at band practice or developing my Northumbrian piping skills alone in my basement practice room or spending a couple of hours at dinner with the love of my life, well… good luck this summer, boys.
I’m never been the life of the party. I’m known to deliver some good one-liners, but I’m a raconteur par crappy. I prefer one-on-one conflabs to group socializing. I dislike being in a large group of diners at a noisy restaurant. I just clam right up and hope it will soon be over.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy people. I do enjoy socializing, and I can have great fun in the right group, but I have to be prodded into it. For the most part, believe it or not, I’m a shy dude and prefer to be doing my own thing or being with my loved ones.
I’ve spent most of my life feeling inferior about this. It’s not what our world preaches. I admire my charismatic, outgoing friends and acquaintances and have always felt there is something wrong with me that I’m not more like them.
A few weeks ago, someone at work posted the 19-minute talk below by Susan Cain, who has just published a book called “The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” It’s not a scintillating motivational speech, because, of course, it’s delivered by an introvert. But if any of what I’ve said above is familiar, or if you want to understand inward-facing types better, have a look. Watch right to the end, because if you recognize yourself there, like I did, it might move you, as it did me, to have an attractive, intelligent person tell you it’s okay to be the way we are:
In short, Ms Cain says that our brainstorming, team-focused, come-together world prefers that we all be outgoing, upbeat, chatty, rah-rah group-huggers all the time. But a lot of us aren’t. Period. It ain’t the way we were wired. However, we make pretty good musicians, and according to Ms Cain, we have more good ideas than our extroverted colleagues.
You don’t need to be a hermit to be a good piper, but the ability to find pleasure in spending an inordinate amount of time by yourself is a clear advantage. Musicians aren’t made at music lessons, or on the competition platform. Those are just tools of the trade. Musical greatness is made in the blessed solitude of the practice room.