There are no do-overs, so my piping has to be precise, professional, and in tune. What I normalIy do is to play 10-15 min prior to the start, usually while guests are being seated. Then, a slow tune for the processional, and if needed, a separate tune for the bridesmaids. Afterwards, a faster more upbeat tune for the recessional, continuing to play until guests have left the area. If needed, I am happy to play for the processional, leading the bride to the altar, as well as playing and leading the recessional, although I don't recommend that. It really takes away from the attention that belongs to the bride and groom.
There have been occasions where I am a "surprise"...The pipes need to be warmed up prior to playing, and it's very difficult to stay a surprise when I start playing. To get through this takes experience and an intimate knowledge of how my pipes work in varying conditions. So although I don't like doing it, if that is what is wanted, that's what I'll do.
I always tell clients that if you want a special tune, and it can be played on the pipes, you'll get that tune. I can also compose a tune specifically for the wedding at no extra charge. One side note about special music...Bagpipes only have 9 notes, no sharps of flats. So any music must meet those requirements.
Funerals tend to have a different set of problems. For one thing, they are not happy events. Usually there is only one, perhaps two tunes played, ending with "Amazing Grace". Prior to the committal, it helps me to talk to the funeral director to find out what the service will be, i.e. short or long, and the best place to stand while playing. If there are any special tunes that the mourners would like played, it works the best to get that information in advance, but I often will get changes at the site. I've done funerals that the family wanted different music, "On Top Of Old Smoky", and "New York, New York" have been some of the tunes I've played. I've played, at a distance, a Piobaireachd prior to the start, usually to set the mood and get the attendees attention. It all depends on the service.
Parties, cocktail hours, and backyard gatherings all have a place for a piper. Things to keep in mind, especially at residences; have you checked with the neighbors about having the pipes playing. Remember, they are loud! A few years ago, I played a wedding reception that was held at a location with a noise ordinance. So everything had to stop by 10PM. Riding back to Portland on the ferry, after checking with the operator, provided that little extra to the journey back to the city, and was well received by the entire boat.
Sometimes, the pipes are simply too loud. Enter the Shuttle pipes. A quiet alternative to the bagpipes. They work well indoors, and have a different sound that will fill a small room and help set a mood. Playing small events like indoor parties, the kilt isn't worn. Semi-dress, shirt and tie, are traditionally worn with the smaller pipes. Also, my fee for Smallpipes only is considerably less than it is for the GHB.
I have, more times than I can remember, played for free. Fundraisers, Assisted Living Centers, schools, any veteran organization, you think of it, and I'll do it. I usually ask for a simple gratuity to cover travel expenses, or a cup of coffee, or a meal. Feed the piper and make him happy! You can ask me, and I'll almost always say yes. I enjoy the pipes, I enjoy performing, and talking about the instrument and the heritage of piping.