A Canary in a Coal Mine

March 17, 2013 on 5:46 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Solo Piping, Stories | 2 Comments

Anyone who knows me knows my parents are real collectors, especially of interesting old things. My dad [“William Grey” the hornpipe] in particular has an eye that is drawn to the old and quirky – like so many of our best piping judges. And usually his “quirky” finds translate to rarities and bargains galore.

He’s thinning out some of his vast collection of stuff (and who doesn’t have “stuff”!) using eBay, for the most part, to get it out there (btw, PayPal=rip-off, in case you didn’t already know).

Anyway, he’s put an item up this evening that is quite amazing, at least to me. Up for auction is a genuine miner’s canary cage, used for centuries by miners (until 1986 in the UK) to enable early detection of lethal gases. It wouldn’t be much of a life for the poor little yellow bird but a useful life in the extreme. My dad’s offering is nineteenth century vintage and there for the taking. It’s most interesting to me, I think, because it represents a really common saying: “like a canary in a coal mine“. And here we have that old expression fairly spring to flight.

Miner's canary cage for early warning

To keep in line with usual blog blab I think I really have to tie this to a piping thingie. So, “a canary in a coal mine”: are there things in the piping and pipe band game that might be likened to canaries in coal mines? Early warnings?

Random, off the top of my big square head:

– Games and competitions disappearing
– A reduction in the number of bands – everywhere (especially in the higher grades)
– Continually low attendance at the annual general meetings of governing organizations – everywhere
Pipe bands competing with rubber drum pad “covers” 😉

I’m sure there are others. You’ll have your own thoughts, I know.



  1. Hi Mike,
    hope the Spring will find you well.

    I think it’s interesting, without big experience in Band Histories, but I do have to agree that the selfishness-isation or the consumerization of the attendance is part of a big “check-in” list, and a sign.
    I think we’re all passionate about our piping things, and humor can be extreme for both the verrry good and the verrry bad.

    We must remember the importance of engagement and volunteering.


    Comment by YoannLeGoff — March 20, 2013 #

  2. Yoann –

    I agree. At the end of the day, we all have a role to play: beyond just piping – we need to teach, promote, perform, organize, participate, etc. M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — March 20, 2013 #

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