Bagpipes 101

Posted by: Carol Lehman on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

The forthcoming Journeys for Women tour to Scotland has me reminiscing about my trips there and the first time I heard bagpipes being played. The sounds of each note sent shivers up my spine, making me feel both excited and mournful. It conjured up images of lochs, fields of heather and peaceful rocky streams. The pipers also lend to the experience in their clan, clad tartan attire.

The bagpipe is the national instrument of Scotland and is best represented in the music of the Scottish Highlands. Many, who hear the bagpipe played, think of Scotland as the origin of the unique instrument.

The bagpipe is thought to be from pre-medieval times, possibly as far back as 1,300 BC.

It is believed that Nero of the Roman Empire was a fan and player of the pipes. Evidence of their existence appears more frequently after 1000 AD. Bagpipes appear in pictures and texts such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1380.

When the bagpipes arrived at Scotland, they quickly became a part of Scottish life. As time went on, the bagpipes in the British Isles evolved and different types of pipes and piping were developed. Marches, strathsplays, hornpipes, and reels were perfected and played on the Highland bagpipes, the Lowland bagpipes, the Northumbria pipes, and the Irish Union pipes.

The Scottish people have made the bagpipes one of the outstanding parts of their culture. They have celebrated their pipes in songs, stories and poems and have kept the pipes alive as part of their musical tradition.

The bagpipe has three pipes that rise out of the instrument to create a constant sound, with a fourth pipe holding nine holes for chord and pitch changes. The bags are usually made of sheep or elk skin and fill with air, which is then pressed by the arm to push the air through. The sound is undeniable when heard and evokes a sense of time-honored tradition for those who love the music of the Scottish Highlands.

Each morning while Queen Elizabeth II is in residence at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, she is awakened by the sound of bagpipes playing. Now that’s my kind of alarm clock!

As you travel around Scotland, iconic sounds of the bagpipes will fill the air. You’ll come across pipers on streets entertaining passers-by, in parades, at Scottish Highland games and various festivals throughout the year.


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