Pipes at a Dinner

The description of a 48th Highlanders of Canada Mess dinner below is an example of how pipers are traditionally used a Military Mess Dinners. Many variations exist. Civilian and mess related dinners often vary, but the main role of a piper at a mess dinner remains much the same. Traditions such as toasts and specific tunes are often changed to choice that have more meaning to the group holding the dinner. Some popular variations are:

  • The number of pipers is often one, but may be entire band as well.
  • The toast to the piper is usually done at the end of a dinner if the piper is required to stay for the entire dinner. If the piper is not required the toast may be given once the piper is free to go.
  • Playing the port in is a often used tradition that is not done at a typical 48th Mess Dinner. The piper plays the port around the room and continues playing until the port has been poured in everyone's glass.

Robert Burns Dinners often follow this format as well.

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The duties of the pipers during a 48th Highlanders Mess Dinner (usually the Officer's Mess) are described below.

The number of Pipers may vary, but the typical number is five, one per company.


Before the meal the a piper will play two dinner calls: the 15 minute and the five minute call. For the 15 minute call, or the 1st Mess call, Bannock and Barley Meal is played for the Officers' Mess and Brose and Butter is played for the Sergeants and Warrant Officers Mess. For the five minute call the 48th Meal Pipes is played, Caller Herrin'.

Lieutenant Colonel Robertson" is played to pipe in the members and guests of the dinner. The head table is piped in with "Highland Laddie."

The Pipes will play the Lament as part of the fallen comrades service which occurs immediately following the head table being piped in.

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If Haggis is being served at the dinner, the Pipes will play in the Haggis with "A Man's A Man." The pipers stand at attention during the address to the haggis. A toast to Robert Burns will follow the address, all pipers will participate in the toast. The Haggis is then piped out with "Neil Gow's Farewell to Whisky."

During the course of the meal the Pipes will enter to play. They will play two sets: the first during the main course, and the second during the dessert course.

Any deviation from this timing may only be ordered by the Mess Committee or the Commanding Officer. This is only done under extremely rare circumstances. It is customary for the first set to close with "Highland Laddie" and the second set to close with "Lieutenant Colonel Robertson."

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Mess Etiquette

As a member of the Mess attending the dinner it is important to remember that the Pipers are professionals and are playing for the entertainment of the members. Talking should he restrained while the Pipers are playing. It is permissible to eat during their performance although a true devotee of the pipes will enjoy the music by giving his full attention to the Pipers. It may be necessary for members at the head table to continue to talk to their guests, but others should not take this as permission for them to talk during the performance.

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The Pipe Major (or senior piper) after playing in the Mess may be called in to receive a 'dram' from the senior officer present.

The Toast

Immediately after the Regimental Toast the Pipe Major will enter and proceed to to a position by the Commanding Officer's left shoulder. The Commanding Officer will rise and face the Pipe Major. The Pipe Major will salute the Commanding Officer who will return the compliment by standing to attention. Each will then pick up a horn from the table. The horns have been filled with liquor of their choice for the toast. The dialogue between the Commanding Officer and the Pipe Major, translated literally is:

Commanding Officer:

A Mhàidseir na pìoba, òlamaid deoch-slàinte!
(Pipe Major, let us drink a toast)

Pipe Major's reply:

A h-uile latha a chì 's nach fhaic, an dà fhicheadamh 's a h-ochd gu bràth! Slàinte don Bhànrigh! Slàinte Mhòr! Slàinte!
(Every day that I see you, or that I don't see you, the 48th forever! Health to the Queen! Great good health! Health!)

Following the words of the toast, the Commanding Officer and the Pipe Major quaff the contents of the horns. The horns are then placed on the table and the Pipe Major again salutes. He then retires from the room.

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The Company Marches are played for the Toasts to the Companies of the Regiment. Each march is played by the company's own piper and that piper alone. As the piper enters the room to the first bars of his company march, that company's commander (or senior rank) will call out his company name "....... Company". All members, or anyone who has been a member of that company, rise to toast their company as follows:

  1. Stand on the chair with your right foot on the table, your left foot on the chair.
  2. Raise your glasses in the right hand while saying "Way Up" and lowered while saying "Way Down".
  3. Repeat step 2.
  4. Glasses are raised a third time while saying "Way Up, ....... Company".
  5. Drink the toast.
  6. Return to your seats as the piper plays out of the room.

This procedure is repeated for each company march. During the toast, the glasses are raised to full arms length and lowered almost to the to the table. The company marches are seldom played in order and it is up to the officers to recognize their own marches.

The last march played is always the Regimental March, "Highland Laddie". This toast is led by the Commanding Officer.

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Just like the music selection, pipers have different rates. Several factors may influence the fee:

  • Distance. Expect to pay an extra fee for pipers that have to travel longer distances to perform at your function.
  • Time. The amount of playing time is another factor. For example, when requesting a piper to play at the ceremony and reception, several hours of time may be needed to be set aside to perform at both.
  • Experience and Skill. Expect to pay higher fees for skilled pipers; while the fees are higher you should also receive a higher quality of performance, both musically and visually. Each piper also has his own history and has been learning for many years to be able to perfect their skills enough to play at your special function. Ask what their experience is and ask for references if you feel you need them.
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