Taps; Piping Military Honors: A Ceremonial Guide for Highland Bagpipers

It has become increasingly popular for U.S. military veterans and their families to specifically request a piper to not only pipe for a funeral, but to pipe Taps for the rendering of military honors as well. Funerals for law enforcement and fire personnel in the United States have a long tradition of incorporating pipers and military honors, and most departmental funerary protocols closely follow those of the U.S. military. The following is a brief general outline of what to expect and what will be expected of you as a member of an honor guard when playing Taps.

You should be well prepared before the funeral, your pipes should be well tuned, well set up, steady, and reliable. Paramilitary band uniforms, appearance, and instrument should meet or exceed the military standards as outlined in British or Canadian Army regulations for pipers. Civilian dress should look equally neat and presentable; jacket brushed, metalwork polished, leather waxed, and kilt pleats and glengarry ribbons pressed; every bit as squared away as a military uniform. A homemade kilt in MacWal-Mart tartan with athletic socks and a JC Penny blazer definitely won't cut it. You'll need decent enough kit to look respectable standing alongside Marines in their Class A's. However, do not wear a Prince Charlie and bow tie unless all the other members of the funeral party are in tuxedos and evening gowns. Active duty or retired military personnel and members of the VFW or American Legion may wear their uniforms. Police, EMS, and fire personnel uniform should conform to agency guidelines; when in doubt check with your departmental chaplain prior to arrival. It is completely beyond my comprehension that this even needs to be said, but unfortunately it does; the wearing of military uniform and insignia to which you have not earned the right is extremely offensive to those who have. It's unconscionable, grossly inappropriate, and in some situations can be physically dangerous (in my opinion, rightly so). Do not humiliate yourself, dishonor the decedent, and deeply offend their friends and family by "playing soldier". If you show up dressed as a Pipe Major in the Black Watch, you'd damned well better be a Pipe Major in the Black Watch!

Under absolutely no circumstances should you be late, so plan ahead; taking traffic, weather, and road conditions into account. You should report to the funeral site well prior to the designated time and report immediately to the Officer In Charge (OIC) or Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC). If piping at a National cemetery, it will probably be very busy; check in at the gate, and make sure they know that you need to precede the family to the site in order to coordinate with the honor guard. For a military funeral, at a minimum there will be two uniformed active duty military personnel assigned to the Military Funeral Honors detail, at least one of which will be from the decedent's branch of service. The highest ranking of the two will be the NCOIC. There may also be a color guard and/or firing detail made up of veterans from the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. Fire, EMS, and police honor guards will also have a team leader or ranking officer in charge. Always check in and coordinate with this person. Regardless of anything written herein, the OIC/NCOIC is in charge of the ceremony and is to be considered the authoritative source of protocol.

Generally speaking, when you're attached to a detail, the leader of that detail will render all salutes. However, there are some points in some funerals when the entire company present will be called to Attention to Present Arms. As always, when in doubt, check with the NCOIC/OIC. Regardless of uniform, if you are not, nor have you ever been, enlisted in the military, you are by definition a civilian, and you will therefore render all hand salutes by placing your right hand over your heart. The one and only exception to this is uniformed civilian fire, EMS, and police personnel, who should conform to their departmental protocols. Just remember to listen, watch, and follow the lead of the OIC/NCOIC and honor guard (unless you're actively piping); if they come to Attention, so do you, if they salute, so do you. If they uncover, so do you, if they come to Parade Rest, so do you. Most drill commands are given in two parts; the preparatory command, and the command of execution (for example; Present, Arms). When your cue is the execution of a two-part command, go on the command of execution, not the preparatory command (i.e., "Arms"). The piper of an honor guard is a highly ceremonial role; solo pipers who haven't had much exposure to drill should seek to learn some from a Drum Major of a local band if at all possible, and practice some basic drill movements with pipes, such as Parade Rest, Attention, Pipes Ready, and Pipes Down.

Remember always that this is a very solemn ceremony and a responsibility to be taken very seriously, and this should be reflected in every aspect of your demeanor and deportment at all times from the first moment of your arrival until your departure from the site.

CHURCH SERVICE

If piping for a church service at a civilian facility, uncover upon entering the chapel unless piping the casket in. Uncover and remain uncovered throughout the service unless actively piping. Generally follow the lead of the honor guard; they will uncover and remain uncovered until time to render military honors. If there is any doubt, check with the officiant beforehand. No weapons of any type should be worn in church; this includes skian dubhs.

Just before the ceremony begins, if not piping the remains in, stand outside by the officiant and OIC/NCOIC or wherever they designate, and salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) along with them as the remains are brought out of the hearse and into the church. If piping the remains in, the OIC/NCOIC will usually call the assembled company to Attention; your cue to execute Pipes Ready; and then Present? Arms as the casket is withdrawn; that is your cue to strike in. You may or may not have been requested to enter the church with the honor guard or casket team, or to play a tune during the service. If you've been requested to remain outside until the end of the service, end your tune as the casket enters the chapel, and remember that you are still actively engaged in a funeral detail, and maintain the solemnity and dignity of the ceremony.

Casket: If not piping, be prepared to drop your salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) as the pallbearers make a five step formal turn with the casket.

Urn: If not piping, be prepared to drop your salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) after the pallbearers have retrieved the remains and are standing with the other pallbearers, when you hear the command "Ready, Step".

It is not uncommon to pipe the remains out of the church at the conclusion of the service; coordinate with the OIC/NCOIC as to whether they want you to lead, follow, or stand aside. Once outside, stand to the left, near the hearse or apparatus. If already outside, the OIC/NCOIC will usually call the assembled company to Attention (execute Pipes Ready), and then Present? Arms as the casket emerges; that is your cue to strike in. When you cut off, execute Pipes Down and render a hand salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart). After the remains are secured, drop your salute (take your cue from the OIC/NCOIC) and move to a position predetermined by the OIC/NCOIC, and stand at Attention or Parade Rest; follow the lead of the OIC/NCOIC.

If not marching to the gravesite with the hearse or apparatus, be prepared to come to Attention and render a hand salute as it moves out. (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart).

If marching in a funeral procession, the piper (or band) will traditionally lead the marching element right behind the color guard; coordinate with the OIC/NCOIC. When the OIC/NCOIC begins to move along the hearse or apparatus to the front, they will salute. If you are not directly attached to the detail but will be a lone piper, salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) as you move past the hearse or apparatus to the front as well, dropping the salute when in front of the flag draped coffin (when marching with a band, the Drum Major will render the salute). Move to a point in well in front of the marching element in order to take your place in the funeral procession, directly behind the color guard.

If it is a funeral with cremains or memorial service without remains, you will sound Taps on completion of the service and at a prearranged signal by the OIC/NCOIC or officiant. Usually, the flag will be encased and displayed upon the altar or stand. Usually, the honor guard will unfold the flag and hold it outstretched as you play Taps. When the flag bearers come to Attention and the flag comes taut, that is your cue to strike in. Start off on the first note; Low A, just like a bugler. Regardless of what you may have been told or how you may have been taught, in this instance do NOT sound an E pick-up note! After sounding Taps, execute Pipes Down. After the flag is folded, the bearer will turn and present the folded flag to the OIC/NCOIC. They will salute the bearer with the flag and take the flag with their left hand on top and their right hand on the bottom, and stand while the bearer salutes the flag. When the bearer drops his salute, they will wait until the bearer is dismissed and then go to the next of kin (normally seated on the left front seat) and present the flag, or present it to the officiant or ranking officer, who will present it to the family. After presenting the flag, they will salute.

GRAVESIDE SERVICE

Unless piping the casket to the gravesite, you will stand at Attention and render a hand salute as the casket is carried to the gravesite (as a general rule, salute whenever the flag is in motion and you are standing still; take your cue from the OIC/NCOIC and follow their lead on when to drop your hand). If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart. If you must move in front of the flag, salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) as you walk past the flag draped casket. If you're indoors, simply stand at attention.

Casket: be prepared to drop your salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) as the pallbearers make a five step formal turn with the casket.

Urn: be prepared to drop your salute (If you are a civilian, place your right hand over your heart) after the pallbearers have retrieved the remains and are standing with the other pallbearers, when you hear the command "Ready, Step".

You may be called upon to pipe the remains to the graveside. This will of course have been coordinated well beforehand with the officiant and OIC/NCOIC. Strike in as the casket is removed from the hearse. Stand at Attention facing the casket as it is being withdrawn from the hearse, execute a proper About Face, and march the casket to the gravesite, about 60 steps per minute, stepping off on the left foot on the first note of the first part. When you arrive at the gravesite, veer off to your prearranged position for the service, then turn and face the gravesite. You should position yourself near the gravesite, alongside the firing party. In any event you should take care to stand in a location where the sound will carry to the funeral party and where you can be seen by the next of kin. You should be facing the casket. End your tune as the casket is placed upon the lowering device. Stand at Parade Rest during the funeral service; follow the lead of the OIC/NCOIC and firing party. You may be called upon to play a short tune, usually after the opening prayer. This will of course have been coordinated well beforehand with the officiant, and you will take your cue from them. For a Fire service funeral, there may be a ringing of the bell, three times, three rings each, signifying the end of an alarm. For air personnel, there may be a fly-over in a missing man formation.

The casket team will position the remains over the grave and unfold the flag, holding it taut over the remains. When the service is complete, the OIC or NCOIC will Present Arms. The firing party consisting of seven riflemen will come to Attention and fire three volleys. Come to Attention with the firing party (bring in left foot, drop right hand to side), and Pipes Up with the command "Ready". Sound Taps after the third volley and after the NCOIC of the firing party orders "Present, Arms"; that is your cue to strike in. Start off on the first note; Low A. Do NOT sound an E pick-up note! After sounding Taps, execute Pipes Down with the firing party on the command "Order, Arms". After the flag is folded, the bearer will turn and present the folded flag to the OIC/NCOIC. They will salute the bearer with the flag and take the flag with their left hand on top and their right hand on the bottom, and stand while the bearer salutes the flag. When the bearer drops his salute, they will wait until the bearers are dismissed and then go to the next of kin (normally seated on the left front seat) and present the flag. After presenting the flag, they will salute. You will be dismissed on the command of the NCOIC of the firing party at the conclusion of the service.

When a firing party is not available, you will sound Taps upon completion of the service and at a prearranged signal from the OIC/NCOIC or officiant. Usually, the honor guard will hold the flag outstretched over the coffin as you play Taps. When the flag bearers come to attention and the flag comes taut, that is your cue to strike in. Start off on the first note; Low A. Do NOT sound an E pick-up note! After sounding Taps, execute Pipes Down. After the flag is folded, the bearer will turn and present the folded flag to the OIC/NCOIC. They will salute the bearer with the flag and take the flag with their left hand on top and their right hand on the bottom, and stand while the bearer salutes the flag. When the bearer drops his salute, they will wait until the bearer is dismissed and then go to the next of kin (normally seated on the left front seat) and present the flag, or present it to the officiant or ranking officer, who will present it to the family. After presenting the flag, they will salute.

DRILL FOR CEREMONIAL PIPERS

ATTENTION

On the command of execution 'TION, bring heels together with feet at approximately 45 degrees. Do not lock your knees. As blood pools in your lower extremities, it is possible to pass out if your locked knees inhibit venous return. Pipe bag tucked underneath your left elbow, with bass drone, chanter, and blowstick in your left hand, palm upward. Bass drone should be perfectly horizontal and 90 degrees from your body. Right hand at your side thumb resting along the first joint of the forefinger, hand cupped (but not clenched as a fist) with palm facing your leg. Stand erect, shoulders square, eyes straight ahead. DO NOT MOVE, FIDGET, OR LOOK AROUND! If you're in this position for a while, very slightly flex your knees, wiggle your toes, shift your weight, etc. to keep circulation going, as long as it's imperceptible to bystanders.

PARADE REST

From the position of Attention, on the command of execution REST, move the left foot about 10 inches to the left of the right foot, about shoulder width apart. Keep the legs straight without locking the knees, resting the weight of the body equally on the heels and balls of the feet. Simultaneously, place the right hand at the small of your back, fingers outstretched. Pipe bag remains tucked underneath your left elbow, with bass drone, chanter, and blowstick in your left hand, palm upward. Bass drone should be perfectly horizontal and 90 degrees from your body. Stand erect, shoulders square, eyes straight ahead. DO NOT MOVE, FIDGET, OR LOOK AROUND! If you're in this position for a while, very slightly flex your knees, wiggle your toes, shift your weight, etc. to keep circulation going, as long as it's imperceptible to bystanders.

STAND AT EASE

From the position of Attention, on the command of execution EASE, you may relax and move around, as long as your left foot doesn't move. Keep silent.

STAND EASY

You may relax and move around, as long as your left foot doesn't move. You may talk quietly.

PIPES READY

From the position of Attention, on the command of execution Ready, draw your pipes forward in front of you, bass drone perfectly horizontal and 90 degrees from your body, bass drone, chanter, and blowstick in your left hand palm upward, grasp bass drone, chanter, and blowstick in your right hand, and then smoothly swing them up into playing position. Rotate the chanter down into playing position in your left hand; bag tucked in under left upper arm, blowstick in your mouth. Drop your right hand to your side, eyes straight ahead. You should be ready to strike in.

PIPES DOWN

From the position of Pipes Ready (in playing position on your shoulder, chanter in your hand and blowstick in your mouth), on the command of execution DOWN, with the right hand, rotate the chanter and blowstick up to the bass drone, grasping all three. Bring the pipes down in front of you, bass drone perfectly horizontal and 90 degrees from your body, grasping the bass drone, chanter, and blowstick in your left hand palm upward with your right hand palm downward on top of the bass drone. Draw the pipes straight back tucking the bag under your left elbow and then dropping your right hand to your right side. Eyes straight ahead.

PRESENT ARMS

From the position of Attention, on the command of execution ARMS, a civilian will bring their right hand up to their heart, palm inward, fingers extended and close together. Pipe bag remains tucked underneath your left elbow, with bass drone, chanter, and blowstick in your left hand, palm upward. Bass drone should be perfectly horizontal and 90 degrees from your body.

ORDER ARMS

From the position of Present Arms, on the command of execution Arms, drop your right hand to your side, and resume the position of Attention.

ABOUT FACE

From Attention or Pipes Ready, on the command of execution Face, place your right toe about 10" behind and slightly to the left of where the right heel was. With your weight evenly on the ball of your right foot and left heel, turn smartly around to your right. Done properly, you should still be at Attention or Pipes Ready facing the opposite direction.

CADENCE

A funeral march is 60 beats per minute.

Piper for Hire; Tampa Bay, FL

Bagpiper available for weddings, receptions, formal dinners, ceremonies, corporate functions, funerals, memorials, and special events of all kinds throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.

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