Well, it’s that time of the year again. March 10th marks Inter­na­tion­al Bag­pipes Day!  I know most of us are (obvi­ous­ly) great bag­pipe lovers already, but for any­one out there who has ever thought, “Wow, bag­pipes are total­ly amaz­ing, but I wish I knew more about them!” this post is for you.

The Pitts­burgh Fire­fight­ers Memo­ri­al Pipe Band at a com­pe­ti­tion! (My dad isn’t not in this pho­to…)

Let’s start with some basic bag­pipe facts.

Piper Bill Millin, badass extra­or­di­naire of WWII

  • Bag­pipes were invent­ed in the Near/Middle East, evi­dence sug­gests some time before the Roman era.  The exact time­line is unknown, but ref­er­ences to bag­pipes and bag­pipers are made in ancient Greek plays and Roman writ­ings. There are spo­radic men­tions of the instru­ment in ear­lier texts.
  • Although the Great High­land Bag­pipe of Scot­land is the most wide­ly known bag­pipe in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world, bag­pipes are actu­al­ly fair­ly com­mon across all Indo-Euro­pean coun­tries, with most every region sport­ing sev­er­al exam­ples.  In addi­tion to the Great High­land Bag­pipe, pipes from the British Isles include the Scot­tish Small­pipes, the Bor­der Pipes, the Irish Uil­leann Pipes, and oth­ers. In Europe, instru­ments include the zam­pog­na of Italy, the bin­iou of France, and the Dudel­sack (yes, real­ly) of Ger­many.  There are also bag­pipes indige­nous to India, Iran, Greece, Turkey, Rus­sia, Poland, Nor­way, Swe­den, and pret­ty much every oth­er Euro­pean coun­try you know.
  • Bag­pipes were used on the bat­tle­fields of Scot­land and Eng­land as ear­ly as the 16th cen­tu­ry.  Bag­pipes were used in a man­ner sim­i­lar to the use of the bugle by the cav­al­ries of West­erns, with dif­fer­ent types of tunes to denote march­ing to bat­tle, retreat­ing, reveille, etc. The com­mon­ly known music of the Great High­land Bag­pipes today comes most­ly from the tra­di­tion of mar­tial music; bag­pipe com­pe­ti­tions strong­ly empha­size march­es specif­i­cal­ly.
  • Gra­tu­itous­ly sexy bag­piper? Don’t mind if I do!

    While dif­fer­ent types of bag­pipe vary great­ly in their tones, the instru­ments have an under­ly­ing uni­ty to their sound, which is due to the way they are played.  Almost all bag­pipes con­sist of a chanter, which plays the melody, and at least one drone pipe, which plays a sin­gle note in the back­ground (hence the name). The piper fills the bag with air, either blown in by mouth or pumped in by a bel­lows, and then squeezes the bag, which forces the air through reeds in the pipes, which pro­duces the notes of the instru­ment.

    From Wikipedia (because I tried to say this as con­cise­ly and failed): “The chanter is usu­al­ly open-end­ed, so there is no easy way for the play­er to stop the pipe from sound­ing. Thus most bag­pipes share a con­stant, lega­to sound where there are no rests in the music. Pri­mar­i­ly because of this inabil­i­ty to stop play­ing, tech­ni­cal move­ments are used to break up notes and to cre­ate the illu­sion of artic­u­la­tion and accents. Because of their impor­tance, the­se embell­ish­ments (or ‘orna­ments’) are often high­ly tech­ni­cal sys­tems speci­fic to each bag­pipe, and take many years of study to mas­ter.”

  • Bill Millin, per­son­al piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, piped British sol­diers ashore at Nor­mandy like a total badass.  After the bat­tle he asked some cap­tured Ger­man snipers why they hadn’t shot him and they told him it was because they thought he had gone insane.  What oth­er instru­ment has a sto­ry like that?! None oth­er.

That’s about enough of the edu­ca­tion­al stuff!  Here are some bag­pipes for you to lis­ten to! Enjoy!

Pipe Major Bri­an Don­ald­son and Willie Mac­Cal­lum, two of the best pipers liv­ing (and two of the nicest peo­ple you’d ever hope to meet!)

The late Pipe Major Alas­dair Gillies, last Pipe Major of the Queen’s Own High­landers, and pos­si­bly the great­est piper of the 20th Cen­tu­ry.  (Also a fan­tas­tic per­son.)

Here’s some Ital­ian bag­pipes!  Wtf?!

Rus­sian Bag­pipes!  Ah!

That’s all from your favorite bag­pipe lover for today!  Haste ye back! <3

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