Strangers in Strange Lands: Episode 13

Ziggar is sitting in a park in New Washington. He came into town with his daughter to donate and do some shopping and sightseeing. He's taking a break while his daughter shops for "unmentionables".

Ziggar is amused by the bizarre bronze sculpture ornamenting the center of the park. It shows a desperate and heroic Gen on horseback fighting off some Sime-like creatures using his rifle as a club. Presumably, he's out of ammunition.

Ziggar figures that the sculptor never saw a real Sime. There seems to be some confusion between tentacles and whips, and the faces are not really human.

Pistareen is really sick of students, professors, and the whole academic round, and decides to go for a walk. He puts down the ulyan pipes and picks up the marching bagpipes, and walks off the campus heading for the public park.

Pistareen's deal with the local cops is simple: he only plays in the parks, they don't summons him for being a public nuisance. After about ten minutes of brisk walking, he arrives in Heroes Park and begins to play: first some classical works, then a few modern ones, then one or two of his own composition. The marching pipes don't actually require marching, but they don't lend themselves to playing while sitting, either.

Ziggar hears some very strange sounds, and sees they are coming from a shaggy looking fellow with... it's not clear what he's holding, but the sounds are coming from it.

Ziggar listens for a while. It's definitely music, but he's never heard anything like it before. He wonders if the music has words. He gets out his spoons and starts playing in time with the music.

Pistareen's random walk leads him to the Monument to the Heroes, which seems like a good place to stop for a bit. The sun is rather hot, and the north side of the Monument provides a bit of shade.

Pistareen notes the old man with the, umm, percussion instrument. Are those really spoons he's using?

Ziggar smiles and nods.

Pistareen comes to the end of "MacNamara's Band", smiles and nods back, and stops playing as well as walking.

Ziggar beckons to the musician, using the Gen form of the gesture (without tentacles).

Pistareen politely dumps spit and walks over to Ziggar's bench.

Ziggar: G'day. What is that thing? I never saw anything like it before.

Pistareen: Well, it's the bagpipes. I blow in here to fill the bag, and the air comes out here and here and here and here -- this is the one that I use to choose the notes.

Ziggar examines the instrument carefully.

Ziggar: That's very clever. That's how you get those notes that are too long for one lungful of air, eh?

Pistareen: Exactly. In particular, the drones here basically just play the same note all the time. I gather you are a musician yourself?

Ziggar: Something of one. I collect songs, and sing them.

Ziggar doesn't see any point in mentioning the nageric performance part. He doesn't want to scare the guy away or disgust him or anything, and it would be time-consuming to explain.

Pistareen: Ah, excellent! I teach music here at NWFU, and tour during the summer -- I'll be leaving in a few weeks, most probably.

Ziggar: I travel a lot myself these days, now that my kids are all grown up.

Pistareen: I never had any, that I know of.

Ziggar smiles, but hopes this guy is joking about having kids he doesn't know of.

Pistareen: Anyhow, the chanter here plays the major scale from A to A, and you can get another octave by overblowing. Meanwhile, these two drones play the A below, and this drone plays the A below that.

Ziggar: Hmm. Looks like that chanter has the same fingering as a zorgol.

Ziggar names a recorder-like instrument popular among children in Nivet. It requires no tentacles to play.

Pistareen: I don't know that instrument. Is it from Sime Territory?

Ziggar: Yes. It's what a lot of kids start out on. Doesn't require tentacles, you see.

Pistareen: Do you play it, then?

Ziggar: Well, a bit, but I'm more of a singer.

Pistareen: Well then! Would you care to try the pipes, or shall we jam a bit?

Ziggar: I'll try 'em, if you don't mind. A bit at least.

Pistareen: Not at all. Cultural transfer, that's what I do. You'll have to stand up, though -- these are a bit too big to play sitting down, though I have a set of ulyans back in my office that are meant for concert work.

Ziggar gets up.

Pistareen wipes off the blowpipe and shows his new friend how to hold the bag.

Pistareen: Here, use the blowpipe to fill the bag, then press down with your arm and finger the chanter down here at the bottom at the same time.

Ziggar fills the bag and awkwardly gets the thing going. He fingers a simple child's tune. It feels even more awkward doing it so far from his mouth.

Pistareen controls his desire to wince: Ziggar's notes are over-loud and wobbly of pitch. But that's only natural when playing for the first time.

Ziggar laughs.

Ziggar: Sounds awful, doesn't it? It must take a fair bit of practice to get a good smooth tone.

Pistareen: Actually, smoothness isn't what pipers aim for: it's a sort of controlled wandering of the pitch called "squirreling". But you're doing much better than I would expect for a first-time player.

Ziggar inflates the bag again, and tries the chorus of "Gone to the Iburan Choice Auction", a very sad song that would go well with the droning sound. The chorus is all one octave.

Pistareen: This time, concentrate on keeping the pressure steady, and add air when you hear the instrument going off pitch.

Ziggar has another go at the chorus, which comes out better this time.

Ziggar: Interesting sound. Very interesting instrument.

Ziggar hands it back to Pistareen.

Pistareen takes the bagpipe back.

Pistareen: Interesting melody, too! I assume that's also from in-Territory?

Ziggar: Yes. It's a sad one, from the bad old days. That was the chorus. The verse is more complex, it goes like this.

Ziggar sings the introductory verse of the song, a lament of a poor widow woman, whose children all establish, one after the other, and are sold at auction as Choice Kills, leaving her all alone. The words are in Simelan, which he assumes Pistareen is not fluent in.

Pistareen listens respectfully.

Ziggar has to be careful when he performs it, not to let the misery and remorse and grief he projects get the Simes in his audience too upset. He usually follows it with a lively upbeat patriotic Unity song.

Pistareen: If you sing that again, I think I can follow you. The chorus seems to be a variant of "Forest Primeval", but the verse is entirely new to me.

Ziggar: Okay, I'll try it. I'll start with the chorus, shall I?

Pistareen: Please.

Ziggar sings the chorus and then goes into the first verse. He finds that he's doing the nageric performance without thinking about it. Since there's no one about to perceive it, he decides to really let 'er rip.

Pistareen plays the chorus along with Ziggar's singing, and manages to keep up with him on the verse despite a few blunders. Unfortunately, a blunder on the bagpipe is much like playing the whole tune wrong on any other instrument.

Ziggar doesn't wince either visibly or nagerically, but continues with chorus and verse, giving Pistareen plenty of chances to get it right.

Pistareen tracks Ziggar considerably more closely on the next verse, and starts to throw in the characteristic extra grace notes that makes bagpiping unique.

Ziggar starts to play around a bit, adding more ornamentation and working with Pistareen's grace notes to make the melody more complex.

Pistareen throws his soul into it, playing for all he's worth.

Ziggar is delighted at how well the bagpipe suits the song, and what Pistareen can do with it.

Pistareen is rocking and rolling....

Ziggar repeats the last chorus, slowly and softly, and finishes.

Pistareen holds the last note for a long time, then slowly lets it die.

Ziggar grins at Pistareen.

Pistareen's eyes are full of fire.

Pistareen: Whoo. Old man, you were singing that song.

Pistareen grins back.

Ziggar: Yup.

Ziggar doesn't add that he was projecting it nagerically as well.

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