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Andrew Lenz's bagpipe journeyAndrew
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Andrew Lenz's Grandfather's Bagpipe Purchase

How my grandfather got his pipes. I think it's a charming story.
Old photo of Warren Penniman Warren Penniman
(Aug. 16, 1913–Jun. 6, 1988),
my grandfather.

Perhaps you can see some resemblance.

I'm not sure when this picture was taken, but it was probably 10-15 years prior to the time he bought his pipes.

While on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, my grandfather Warren Penniman and his wife, Irene, who were on vacation, stopped in at a cluttered bagpipe shop. This was between 1973 and 1977. After spending some time admiring the tighly packed instruments and goods for sale, he thought better of a purchase, left the shop and off they strolled.

Irene and Warren Penniman Warren Penniman with my grandmother Irene in the early 1980s.

My grandparents loved to travel, evidenced by the glimse of the tour bus in the background of this photo taken in France!

Here I'll note that from the 1940s onward my grandfather played a wide assortment of wind instruments with The Watsonville Band, a large community marching band which he continued to do up until the time of his death in 1988. The local newspaper published an article about him and all his instruments entitled, "A Man of Music." In his shed among other instruments were: a bass drum, a couple snare drums, a tuba, a trumpet, a trombone or two, a french horn or two; and in the house, a piano, an organ, a bugle, a cello, a violin, a harmonica. I'm sure there were more. All of his grandchildren received penny whistles one year for Christmas—mine might still be kicking around my parents' home.

The Thirsty Nine band - 15 people in traditional german attire
The Thirsty Nine (a subgroup of the large Watsonville Band), as you can see given the attire, had a distinctly German flavor! This photo was taken around 1980, give or take a few of years.
My grandfather is the second from the right in the back row. To the right of my grandfather is Bert Viales who was the conductor for the Watsonville Band for 38 years.

Close-up of Warren Penniman from Thirsty Nine photo with baritone horn My grandfather truly was a musician. He loved music and the instruments used to create it. One of his favorites was the baritone horn.

My grandmother stopped her husband halfway down the block, "Warren, you've wanted to play for years. We're here, now's the best time. Why not just go back and buy a set?" With that encouragement, they turned around.

Once back in the shop, they asked to see about ordering a set of pipes. The clerk, around 30 years old, looked my grandfather up and down and saw a man in his early 60s, well past his prime for learning. "We don't make them to hang on the wall, they are meant to be played. If you want them for show, you'll have to buy somewhere else."
[At this point in her story my grandmother waves her hand in the dismissive manner that was used to illustrate the point, the man was suggesting they might need to head out the door.]

Man standing in front of J&R Glen Highland Bagpipe Makers shop, 1970s
This is probably the place. The long gone J&R Glen shop in Edinburgh which at one time was owned and operated by Andrew Ross. This photo, provided by Gene Green, was taken in late 1977 or Summer 1978 and I'm sure the shop looked nearly identical when my grandparents—mostly likely—previously paid it a visit. It was either here or the Highland House across the street, though the scrutiny of the potential purchaser and the crammed shop is very much in keeping of Ross' ownership.
The man is blocking the window display of a very rare brass set of Thomas Glen bagpipes which many strongly associated with the shop. That brass set of Highland pipes is now in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland.

It was explained to the shopkeeper that my grandfather had been a wind musician for decades and intended to make good use of the pipes.

With that, my grandfather was presented with a practice chanter and asked to make a case for himself with his fingers. Since my grandfather played tin whistles now and then, he easily presented some form of little tune for the shopkeeper.

The man listened intently, then pronounced, "Very well."

The shopkeeper stepped away for a moment and dialed up the pipemaker and apparently during the phone conversation the maker made it clear that he wanted to be very certain that the set wasn't intended for decoration. The shopkeeper explained that the customer seemed to be authetically interested in playing them and seemed capable. A decision was reached.

My grandparents were told the pipes would take about three months to make, to which they readily agreed. And true to the shopkeeper's word, about three to four months later, my grandfather's pipes arrived in America. (Did he play them? Read this.)

Now a quarter century later, they are in my pipe case and played often, not displayed.

Andrew Lenz in a rain jacket standing on a wet street (Royal Mile, Edinburgh) The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, 1995.

Here I am in Scotland, two decades after my grandparents walked this very street in the story told above.

Little did I know that two years after this photo was taken by my wife, I'd be beginning my journey as a bagpiper. At the time, I had never even remotely given it a thought. We didn't visit the bagpipe shop nor did I even know the story involving it. Funny how life is!



I told a brief version of this story to a reporter when he asked about my pipes after my first competition back in 1999. The resulting article is here.


This page last updated Sunday, August 22, 2010.
Page first created July 28, 2003.




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