Blowing away the COVID Blues: Ottawa musician takes the bagpipes to the streets
OTTAWA -- Rose Roberts was feeling like so many others during COVID-19: cooped up and in need of a change of scenery.
"I just get cabin fever super-fast and I was almost giving up," said Roberts.
Instead, the 26-year-old talented bagpiper ventured into the backyard to shake things up a little.
"When I decided to try my pipes outside to see if it would get me going, I kind of accidentally got everyone out from their apartment over there," Roberts said with a laugh.
When the residents of the nearby apartment started applauding and cheering from their balconies, Roberts decided to take the pipes on the road.
"So that’s where it all began, thinking maybe I’ll just give them a show, right?"
For months now, when the weather allows, the vibrant piper, with bright red hair and nails to match, has been making the rounds in the capital, turning up the volume and raising spirits.
"It’s kind of like a free, fun concert I’m giving people."
Roberts began playing the pipes in Air Cadets; the piper showing early promise. Roberts was one of 15 Ontario pipers chosen in 2013 to play at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.
The instrument has always been a source of joy; something that felt comfortable in a world where so many other things didn’t.
"I’m not a big fan of talking about this much, but I’ll say it once. I’m autistic. I don’t let it get me down. I just focus on what’s ahead of me in the future."
Bagpipes have always been an important part of that future. Playing them is one of Robert’s gifts. While struggling with music theory, or performing while reading sheet music, Roberts can play the pipes without either.
"I can tell you low A B C D E-all that- but the thing is, I can’t play it. I’m more like a copycat. If you play me a song, I will listen to it and then do it," Roberts said.
Carole and Blain Ince first met Roberts during an impromptu concert on their street.
"We came out when we heard the bagpipe music which was very joyful to hear, given the times we’re going through," said Blain Ince.
"The music is so beautiful and moving, It comes from a kind and generous place which I appreciate so much," said Carole Ince.
Moved by Robert’s kindness, Carole, a part-time artist, created a vibrant portrait of Rose to celebrate a colourful piper’s gift of music to the capital.
"Rose is doing this all over the city. I just loved this story and I wanted to be a part of it," said Carole.
Roberts believes it’s a chance for musicians to show they can be 'front line workers', of sorts, at a time when people need a lift.
"What do instrument players do? They bring joy. So, why don’t we instrument players give them one helluva show."
Roberts is not busker and does not want payment for this gesture of good-will. Still, many people can’t help themselves.
"Most people get ticked off when I don’t accept tips. They get really salty with me, no matter how many times I say no and walk far away. They chase me until I accept it," the piper said with a laugh.
While the cooler weather is making it tougher to perform, Roberts vows to get out whenever possible. It’s the popular piper’s hope to make the dark days a little brighter, by blowing away the COVID blues, one tune at a time.
"It’s not going to be forever, but as long as us instrument players give them something to enjoy, then when this is all over, it will be all worth it in the end."