The 25th of January each year marks the anniversary of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. On this day or close to it, sees the traditional Burns Supper held, in Scotland and in far-flung places where Scots emigrated to. An event celebrating the life and work of Robert Burns – combining haggis, whisky, poetry and of course, bagpipes! A Burns Supper Bagpiper is traditional and has a most important role, and not only for piping.
As a piper for Burns Night, at a minimum I’ll play a medley of tunes as your guests arrive at the venue. When it’s time for dinner I’ll pipe the Haggis into the Dining Room. Then I’ll recite Burns’ Address to a Haggis, toast the Haggis (and your guests) and pipe myself and the Haggis back out of the room.
Piping for the arrival of your guests at the Burns Supper is traditional. It sets a Scottish tone for the evening and establishes the sense of cermony required for such an important occasion. Normally I’ll play outside at this time.
Piping in the Haggis is the beginning of the formal ceremony of the Address to the Haggis. This is where the star attraction of the Burns Supper arrives – the Haggis! Playing the Burns song A Man’s a Man, For All That, I pipe in to the Dining Room leading the Chef carrying the Haggis on a platter. The Haggis is set down on a table in view of your guests, at which point I stop playing. Now it’s time to start the formal proceedings of the evening.
After the Haggis has been laid down and the Chef stands aside, I stop playing and welcome your guests to their Burns Supper. Before formally Addressing the Haggis, I deliver to your Burns Supper guests a factual talk about the history, physical characteristics and habits of this mystical creature, the Haggi Tres Tripodes Creatura Inexpugnabilus (its Latin name which I will explain). You’ll learn how the Haggis survived the natural disasters which wiped out the dinasours, and of the risks today’s Haggis Hunters face to catch the Haggis about to be eaten. Historical accuracy is guaranteed!
The Address to a Haggis is the most important part of the official prceedings. Robert Burns is believed to have composed his poem To a Haggis spontaneously when asked to say Grace at a dinner in Edinburgh. It became tradition to recite this in front of a haggis when Burns Suppers in the bard’s honour began to be held in the early 19th century.
In the third verse of the ‘Address’ I draw my Piper’s Dirk and ceremoniously cut the haggis from end to end. Near the end of the Address I raise the Haggis on its platter and ask your guests toraise their glasses, and toast “To the Haggis”.
Upon laying the Haggis back on the table, I present a whisky to the Chef, raise my own glass and toast the Chef and your guests. I then take up my pipes and start piping to lead the Chef and the Haggis back out of the room. This is the signal for the dinner to begin.
At a formal Burns Supper it’s traditional for the bagpiper to perform a short recital after the meal. This is a ten to fifteen minute performance where the the piper can show off his skills. A variety of tunes are played, from traditional ceremonial tunes, to lively contemporary tunes which will have your Burns Supper guests’ feet tapping.
When I finish playing, I bid your guests farewell and pipe my way back out of the room.