Thursday, December 20, 2007

Musical Pipes

These pipes were made for me by Helen Vernon. My first encounter with musical pipes happened while I was home from BYU--probably for Christmas, though I suppose it could have been summer vacation. We went over to visit the Vernons, who had moved into my family's ward (at church). She had this set of numbered pipes all cut to different lengths to produce different notes. We played songs on the pipes, striking them with spoons, following the numbers that Sister Vernon pointed to on a big pad of paper. She had a bunch of songs written out in this pad, and she said they liked to get the pipes out for group activities. I thought it was great fun.

Later, when I was graduating from BYU and had just gotten engaged to Doug, my family came out to Utah. My mom brought a package that she said was a graduation-slash-engagement present. It was a set of pipes that Sister Vernon had made for me. Nineteen pipes, in a big cloth roll (rather like the crayon rolls that my friend Amy has on her blog), with spoons tucked into the slots. (If she made many of these sets for people she must have been constantly scouring thrift stores for odd spoons.) There was also a set of instructions and songs. My mom said later that she wished she had taken a picture of my expression when I opened the box. I was thrilled. Betsey, who is allergic to cacophony, expressed the wish to not play with the pipes right then, and I said that we couldn't, anyway, since I would have to write the numbers for the songs out bigger so everyone could see them.

Eleven years passed by, and more, before we actually used the pipes. We didn't take them to Korea with us, or Newfoundland. For a time I wasn't sure where they were, but I found them again. We would get them out every once in a while and look at them, and bang on a few with the spoons. It takes a lot of people to play the pipes, and Doug and I, while not exactly anti-social, are not really event planners. Plus they're rather bulky, and heavy, and not the sort of thing that you can just casually toss into a suitcase when flying out to a family gathering in Ohio.

A couple of weeks ago we got a call from a friend at church who's on the activities committee, wanting to know if Doug could perform for the ward Christmas party. I mentioned that I had these pipes that were fun to use with large groups. She said that sounded fun, so I got on the program.

I got some poster board and wrote out two songs--"O Little Town of Bethlehem" (something with an easy rhythm, to start with) and then, in case it went really well and we were feeling ambitious, "Silent Night" with harmony. The day before the party we got out all the pipes and hung them on a broomstick across the backs of two chairs, and played around with them a bit.

Kate got into the act with her spoon, and once knocked the whole broomstick off onto the floor with a ringing clatter. (She was alarmed but unhurt.)

That afternoon we got the news that Sister Vernon had passed away. She'd been battling cancer for quite some time. I never got to know her very well, since they'd moved into the area after I left for college, but I always thought of her fondly. I know she will be missed.

The night of the party, when it was my turn, I asked for "volunteers with a good sense of rhythm." I got mostly kids. (I snagged one of the missionaries to hold my poster board.) They did a good job! As we gamely clanked our way through "O Little Town of Bethlehem," the rest of the people in the gym gradually fell silent, listening. The pipes make a good loud sound, but not loud enough, apparently, to be heard over a gym full of talking people. By the end of the song it was very still. So we did it again.

I didn't think we were up to tackling "Silent Night," so we didn't try that one. But maybe we'll get to do it with some friends before Christmas. Hopefully we'll get to use the pipes more often. I will think of Sister Vernon and try to make good use of her gift.

I found this site where you can buy a set of pipes, or buy instructions for making them.


Mimi said...

Allergic to cacophony, bwahahahahahhaah! That's good!

May her Memory be Eternal. That's a great gift.

Kathey said...

Allergic to cacophony is an excellent way to describe Betsey!

The Vernons were in our ward the first time when you and Kirsten were little. She knew one of our girls was adopted, and since Kirsten looks so much like Dad, Helen always thought you were the adopted one. She was excited for us when Peter was born. She wanted us to have the experience of having a boy after having two girls. She said that girls like to look at rose bushes, but the boys like to dig them up!

After they were here they went to Germany and had a fabulous experience there. We were all glad when they came back.

I have a vague recollection that the plans for those musical pipes may originally have come from an old church magazine called "The Instructor," but I might be making that up. I do remember that Helen had people making those pipes as a project on home making night.

I'm glad you got to use them. May this be the first of many lovely cacophonies.

Love, Mom

Barb said...

Betsey definitely IS allergic to cacophany. I just told her you said that and she laughed, "Yes, I am, unless I create it myself." She sure is fun.

I'm glad you got to use the pipes. That is a nice thing to do and to remember Sister Vernon.

jimmydog said...

Yes Helen Vernon loved playing the pipes for our church or office gatherings. One memorable night we tried to play the Air Force Song using 3 sets of pipes with our dear friends, but it was too late in the evening and they had lost some of their coordination. Lots of fun and laughter; but, not a lot of rhythm or people on key.

I’m not sure when Helen first discovered the pipes, but every Christmas since them they were an intregal part of our celebration. If something was fun, she wanted to share; everyone she knew had to have pipes! I do not exaggerate when I say she made well over a 100 sets, complete with cloth holders to wrap around them. Of special note was the time she carried a suitcase full of the electrical conduit from the US to Germany where we were living. She couldn’t get the right “tone” from the German conduit and just had to have “American made”. She had a very hard time convincing airport security she was not a threat, but she finally did and arrived in Germany with her treasure.

As her husband, it thrills me to read this tribute to Helen and the special joy she brought to those around her every day. Thanks Helena!