Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I think everyone associates bagpipes with Scotland, and while sometimes it is too stereotyped, it really is the truth. Bagpipes are just as much Scottish as the kilt and truly go hand in hand. They've been in Scotland for a very long time. They played on the battle field with Wallace and Bruce and they were banned with the Highland dress in 1746 after the disastrous Battle of Culloden. 

I think that the bagpipe is probably the only instrument that anyone can guess right off. There is really no other sound like it. I will admit that they are an acquired taste, but I have always found them pleasant. (That is, when they are played well. An out of tune bagpipe is not a pleasure, but you can say the same for anything.) I personally love the sound of the bagpipe. I always thought they were so different. They are absolutely beautiful playing laments and airs and can sound both haunting and joyful and also a bit threatening at times. 

Each clan has its own pibroch. A pibroch is a special tune played on the bagpipe. It goes along with the clan motto, crest, plant badge and tartan. In 1745, when all the clans gathered to the banner of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Glenfinnan, all the clans marching in were each playing their own pibroch. This was also the case when the clans went off to war. You can only imagine the sound of fifty plus clans marching onto the battlefield, and the piper of each clan skirling their pibroch out amidst drums and shouting men. It's a wonder the English ever stayed long enough to fight at all. (If you really want to re-create this effect, you can gather all your music playing devices and play a different pipe tune with each all at the same time. You'll most likely understand after a few minutes. I have also heard this effect at the Highland Games during the piping competitions because everyone is playing at the same time, and though they cannot hear each other, the listeners can hear everything. I really pity the judges.)

Now days we have pipe bands, and, while I do like hearing them, and I'll admit they play very well, it is all too military for me. This was not how they would have played on the battlefield. If you want to hear a fantastic example of what I think battlefield piping and drumming would have sounded like back in the days of Wallace and Bruce, then check out the band Albannach. I still have a very hard time believing they are actually from this century! All I know is that if I was an Englishman going to fight the Scots, then I would probably lose my nerve very quickly hearing these guys play on the battlefield!

So here's just a little bit on bagpipes, if you want to know anything else, just ask. I just didn't really want to bore you with how they worked and stuff like that.

Slainte, Hazel

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