Sunday, 22 May 2011

Les Jeudistes Scottish Choir Tour No. 4

I know I sometimes write the first thing that comes into my head, and anyone reading these effusions is clearly graced with the greatest forbearance (or has no idea how best to spend his/her time), but today's post is something special.

No, it's no illusion, no trick photography. It's the Sultan of Oman's Mounted Pipe Band. Look, you can quite clearly see the camels, with bagpipers mounted. How you do this I've no idea. And just think, the other day I could have found out, but the opportunity passed, and unless any of the myriad camel-mounted pipers that come here every day can enlighten me, it will have passed for ever.

We took Les Jeudistes to Cawdor Castle. It's the one in which Macbeth murdered King Duncan, according to Shakespeare. (In fact Macbeth, who reigned in Scotland - as it often does - at about the time of William the Conqueror wasn't a bad king at all. His queen was called Gruoch, or maybe she was merely clearing her throat when asked what her name was.) It's a fascinating place to visit, and I've known this castle for many years. I once borrowed - by permission of Earl Cawdor, a Campbell - the castle dinner gong for a performance in which I was playing percussion of Carmina Burana in nearby Inverness.

I arranged for a piper to meet Les Jeudistes, thinking we might as well go the whole hog. Mutedly resplendent in mainly blue tartan, he met us at the turnstile, led us in procession to a well-known march called The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill to the castle drawbridge, where we were all photographed with him. When he stopped playing I asked him what his pipe-history was: usually pipers have served with some military unit or other. He wore a silver badge with a stag's head on it, the badge of Clan Mackenzie which eventually became, together with the motto 'Caberfeidh', the emblem of the Seaforth Highlanders, now merged into The Highlanders.

Yes, he'd served with the Seaforths, he said, but after leaving and before taking full retirement he'd been appointed piping instructor to the Sultan of Oman. Here he had to learn not only to ride camels but to play the pipes while riding. I was tempted to think he was pulling my leg, but he was a very serious-minded gentleman, not at all like his interlocutor, so I imagine it must be true.

Les Jeudistes thanked him and moved into the inner bailey, just beyond the drawbridge. Although open to the skies, the acoustic was excellent. Despite our rule never to sing out of doors, we thought we might have a go just this once. We formed up and sang a couple of our Occitan folksongs. Heads appeared at doors and windows, mulberry-uniformed staff forsook the cafeteria to listen. Enthusiastic applause. Not having perfect pitch, I borrowed J.'s tuning fork to find the right pitch. I suppose I could have borrowed the gong again if I'd thought of it.

There's another stag's head on the heraldic shield above the gate. This time the motto is that of the Campbells of Cawdor: Be Mindful.

I don't think we'll forget.

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