Bagpipes were invented to haunt the shores of misty lochs or the slopes of a distant brae. They weren't meant to be blasted in your ear on a downtown street corner.
At least that was the feeling of those who run Ottawa's popular Byward Market the Sunday before last, when 17-year-old George Muggleton was told to stop playing his pipes at the public market.
He was just trying to raise money, he said, to pay his parents back for a trip he will be taking next month to compete in Scotland with the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band.
He felt this wasn't right. So he wrote to members of the city council and the local media, which have rallied to his cause. This week, he was invited to play outside Ottawa radio station CHEZ 106 and later outside D'Arcy McGee's pub, earning $900 or so on Monday alone from listeners phoning in or giving him donations in person. He was also accompanied Monday by two Highland dancers and a drummer. Clearly Muggleton has struck a nerve.
What's at question here isn't whether the market in Ottawa had the right to ask Muggleton to stop his street performance. The real question is whether bagpipes have a place on a modern, urban street corner.
If people don't like it, "they can walk along, you know?" Muggleton said. "It's not like I'm forcing people to sit there and listen to me."
Still, there is that determined side to bagpipe playing. "Very much so. I wouldn't say it's a dying tradition, but it's not very popular. So whenever we [his pipe band]do our shows or play at things, we want to go big and go loud just to prove the point that it's still around and not dead," he said.
One tourist watching him play outside the public market said that it was his first visit to Ottawa and that because of the way Muggleton was treated, he would never come back again, and he would discourage his friends from going.
So, the next time someone decides to set up on a street corner with pipes in hand, ask yourself this: Bagpipes, are they a clarion call or car alarm?