1 Apr

April 2017 Calendar of Events

Wel­come April! April show­ers bring all sorts of fun hol­i­days! While swin­ter fin­ish­es up and we get those quin­tes­sen­tial grey ‘burgh days, we’ve also got a bunch of things to smile about. Grilled cheese, Nation­al Uni­corn Day, Drop Every­thing And Read Day, and Inter­na­tion­al Juggler’s Day, to name a few. Read on to see what else we’re cel­e­brat­ing this mon­th! Read more »

27 Mar

If you give a mouse a cookie, that’s cool, but giving him a sword is better.

While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Tread­er. When she fails me, I pad­dle east in my cor­a­cle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s coun­try, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sun­rise and Peep­iceek will be head of the talk­ing mice in Nar­nia.” — Reepicheep, The Voy­age of the Dawn Tread­er

Ok, so here’s the thing about giv­ing swords to mice.  It’s the freak­ing best.  While the sym­bol­ism of the swords­mouse prob­a­bly goes with­out say­ing, let me at least say that one of the rea­sons swordsmice are awe­some is that they remind us nev­er to be daunt­ed by long odds and to always per­sist in the face of adver­si­ty (two lessons that are becom­ing increas­ing­ly impor­tant).

In the case of Reepicheep, a well-known char­ac­ter from C.S. Lewis’s Nar­nia and my very favorite swords­mouse, the lessons about being fierce despite small size are still there, but they’re slight­ly over­shad­owed by the main thrust (no pun intend­ed) of the char­ac­ter, which is that you should be a total and com­plete badass in every and all sit­u­a­tions, no excep­tions. Full stop.

Reepicheep’s whole thing is that he might be the tini­est bit inse­cure about being, you know, a mouse, so he way, super over­com­pen­sates by being real­ly into fight­ing every­one who even slight­ly annoys him in any capac­i­ty.  Now. On the sur­face, does this seem like real­ly not an admirable qual­i­ty?  Yes.  But!  Reepicheep com­plete­ly makes up for this egre­gious old-timey bel­li­cos­i­ty by being extreme­ly noble, chival­rous, and basi­cal­ly just a big, damn hero.

This is a fan­made piece of art depict­ing Reepicheep and Matthi­as in a sword fight. Vis­it the artist’s DeviantArt page, here!

Anoth­er great swords­mouse is Matthi­as, the main char­ac­ter of Bri­an Jacques’s Red­wall.  Matthi­as is a clas­sic unlike­ly hero and real­ly, who doesn’t love that?  Matthi­as is oppo­site of Reepicheep in most ways. He’s a peace-lov­ing mouse who pret­ty much just loves work­ing at Red­wall Abbey and is por­trayed as a bit of a bun­gler at first.  But he ris­es in defense of his home and his loved ones when the Abbey is threat­ened.  With­out spoil­ing the book for you, I’ll tell you that Matthias’s trans­for­ma­tion from hap­less pas­toral duf­fer to mighty swords­mouse is exact­ly what you need to read if you feel help­less.

Nar­nia and Red­wall are very, very dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er, but aside from swordsmice and being writ­ten by Brits, what they have in com­mon is the deep-root­ed the­me that good will defeat evil as long as heroes have the will to per­se­vere.


This should prob­a­bly be the KU mot­to. It’s def­i­nite­ly one of mine and is a per­fect depic­tion of the best of what swordsmice rep­re­sent.

Basi­cal­ly what I’m try­ing to say, you guys, is this: Swordsmice are one of the great­est things ever given to us by lit­er­a­ture.  They remind us that val­or, brav­ery, and phys­i­cal prowess are not the domain only of the large and strong. They teach us not to be afraid to pick a fight, if we feel threat­ened.  They show us that you can be peace­ful and still pro­tect those you love.  The­se are impor­tant things for every child to learn, which is why swordsmice are most­ly found in books for chil­dren and young adults, but I have found myself need­ing reminders late­ly. If you do, too, the­se books, and oth­ers like them, are the places to find them.

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25 Mar

Isn’t Tolkien Reading Day every day?

Hap­py Tolkien Read­ing Day, folks. Held on March 25, this is gen­er­al­ly the time each year that I decide to re-read at least one of the nov­els relat­ed to Tolkien’s Mid­dle Earth (I nor­mal­ly choose The Hob­bit; it has always been my per­son­al favorite). J.R.R. Tolkien is a pret­ty amaz­ing dude who did a whole lot with his life. He served dur­ing the first World War and began to write many of his sto­ries while injured. He stud­ied lin­guis­tics and his­to­ry, both of which inspired his works.

Hey, I get it. I’m not here to learn about some Eng­lish dude. I want to read about orcs and gob­lins!”

How rude, infor­mal read­er. But, alas, let’s talk books. Well I am talk­ing. Typ­ing tech­ni­cal­ly. You get it.

The father of high fantasy

J.R.R. Tolkien (source)

Nev­er read a drop of Tolkien before? I would start with The Hob­bit (1937). The Hob­bit is a won­der­ful sto­ry, a fan­ta­sy nov­el writ­ten, in a lot of ways, like a his­tor­i­cal epic (this trend is always present in Tolkien’s work, and I would wager it is the rea­son his sto­ries are so well done). It is a children’s nov­el pri­mar­i­ly, and that lends to its cred­it. Many of us read it when we were young, and the themes of adven­ture, excite­ment, and fear help us remem­ber a time when we also saw the world as Mr. Bil­bo Bag­gins does: fright­en­ing­ly large and excit­ing. This book has a sooth­ing qual­i­ty around it and tru­ly puts me at ease. The char­ac­ters are all very real, which is essen­tial for a world that isn’t. If we can’t relate to any­one, why should we care? If some­one is the best at every­thing and has no faults, then I will stop read­ing.

Uh, what about Gan­dalf?” you may ask. Oh dear read­er, Gan­dalf has to be great and pow­er­ful and mys­te­ri­ous. He alien­ates us, the read­ers, to a degree. Also all the wiz­ard real­ly does is set pine cones on fire, so how great is he? The ver­sion you buy most any­where will not be the orig­i­nal. Tolkien edit­ed it when The Lord of the Rings was being made so it fit in with the world (hel­lo ret­con).

I won’t take offense if you duck out now and go read The Hob­bit. I am half tempt­ed to. But for those who want some­thing a bit meatier and meant for adult audi­ences, then how about this lit­tle ol’ col­lec­tion called The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955)? Three dif­fer­ent books each made up of two parts, it will take a bit to read, but the jour­ney is worth it.

Hey guy, I watched the movies. I know the sto­ry.” Hey, I hate to be that guy who goes on and on about how the books are bet­ter than the movies (I don’t hate to be that guy), but that is what I am going to do. The movies had this prob­lem where they had to fit 20 hours of con­tent into a sin­gle movie. And they had to make it more excit­ing for the typ­i­cal movie-going audi­ence. And while the movie has an amaz­ing sound­track, won­der­ful cin­e­matog­ra­phy, and a great cast, there’s just some stuff that didn’t trans­late.

Let’s take one of my favorite book sce­nes. Strid­er (yes, Strid­er) is dis­cussing the Last Alliance of Men and Elves and becomes lost in his thoughts. “Sud­den­ly, a low voice mur­mured:

Gil-gal­ad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sad­ly sing;
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Moun­tains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shin­ing helm afar was seen;
the count­less stars of heaven’s field
were mir­rored in his sil­ver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into dark­ness fell his star
in Mor­dor where the shad­ows are.”

Gil-Galad from the movie

Gil-Gal­ad screen time: about 3 sec­onds? (source)

This is nar­rat­ed by none oth­er than Sam­wise Gamgee, who is fas­ci­nat­ed by elves but doesn’t even know if they are real. Strid­er goes into it more, but I hope you get the point by now. This one snip­pet devel­oped mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters all at once, in many dif­fer­ent ways. We know Strid­er is even more mys­te­ri­ous and knowl­edge­able than before, we know Sam wants to believe in some­thing mag­i­cal about the world, and we know this world is filled with estab­lished poems and sad tales. This poem has a beau­ti­ful sad­ness to it, which has stuck with me since the day I read it. And the­se sto­ries are mag­i­cal because moments like this hap­pen every­where. The­se very real char­ac­ters, whom we relate to, live and fight and hope and dream, and die, and we feel for them. It feels more real than most fic­tion because of this. While I do enjoy the movies, this is one of the things it gets wrong (not out of choice I am sure, but neces­si­ty. You only have so much time).

Char­ac­ter devel­op­ment isn’t plot, Mr. Man” you may say. Well let’s assume you are right. I did promise sig­nif­i­cant plot dis­crep­an­cies between the films and books. Let’s look at one (I don’t want to spoil too much if you haven’t read the books yet). Gen­er­al­ly the same stuff hap­pens, but in dif­fer­ent ways. In the film The Return of the King, Aragorn leaves with Lego­las and Gim­li for no real rea­son and asks a bunch of ghosts to kill the bad guys in a city. Well ok, may­be I am over­sim­pli­fy­ing a tad, how­ev­er this has stuck with me since I saw the film. Aragon doesn’t real­ly deserve this vic­to­ry; it is given to him. Kings should earn their king­ship, birthrights are what the bad guys have. At the end of The Two Tow­ers book, Strid­er meets some fel­low rangers. He, Gim­li, Lego­las, and the rangers meet some ghosts. Because they are ghosts (you know, incor­po­re­al) and can’t real­ly touch stuff, they scare a bunch of Southrons off of their boats, which Strid­er and co. use to approach Minas Tirith from the back and they lib­er­ate the city. They do it. They fight and die and earn the vic­to­ry. When Strid­er becomes Aragorn, becom­ing king, you feel he is the right­ful heir and has escaped the curse of Isil­dur. This is the kind of depth you can only get from read­ing the book.

Watercolor of the lonely mountain

Tolkien’s paint­ings have this lev­el of charm that you just don’t see any­more (source)

Wait.…you read the­se four books and you want some­thing else? Well, on the Tolkien nerd flow­chart, we now go to two dif­fer­ent books: The Sil­mar­il­lion and Unfin­ished Tales. The­se books were nev­er fin­ished. Christo­pher Tolkien, J.R.R.‘s son, edit­ed and pub­lished the­se sto­ries (and most of his oth­er short sto­ries, let­ters, and poem col­lec­tions which are also worth look­ing up). The Sil­mar­il­lion is a his­to­ry book, make no mis­take. But it is a his­to­ry book about elves and their relat­ed adven­tures. Many of the sce­nes added to The Hob­bit movies came from The Sil­mar­il­lion. It goes in to a lot of detail of who Gan­dalf and the relat­ed wiz­ards are and what they do as well. There is so much con­tent I can’t even scratch the sur­face, so I hope that you will take a look. Unfin­ished Tales is basi­cal­ly a book of short sto­ries and drafts. It is an odd read because going in you know what you are read­ing will nev­er be fin­ished, but it isn’t a bad one.

You can’t tell me that he didn’t write any­thing else?!? I read all of this 10 times!” Look, dear read­er, I feel you. Sad­ly, as the elves left for the Grey Havens, our jour­ney is com­ing to a close. Tolkien has many crit­i­cal essays writ­ten involv­ing old poems and epics. He knew his stuff well, and if you are a fan of Arthuri­an leg­ends and such, worth a read to see where his inspi­ra­tion comes from. Many poems and sto­ries here and there involve Mid­dle Earth, as well, but, alas, that will be left for you to find.

Con­grat­u­la­tions if you made it this far, but don’t you have some­thing to read by now? I know I do. Time to find some Old Toby and my own Glam­dring. Now where did I put that Light­ing Brand.….


21 Mar

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul!

March 21st is Inter­na­tion­al Day of Forests, which has hon­est­ly got to be one of the best and most impor­tant days ever imple­ment­ed by the U.N. Here’s a link to the Wiki arti­cle, if you’re inter­est­ed in the bor­ing tech­ni­cal stuff that they do.

I want to go to here.

Forests are amaz­ing.  I have loved them since I was a kid, explor­ing what I per­ceived as the rugged wilder­ness of my grand­par­ents’ sub­ur­ban back­yards.  And while I grew to under­stand that the small stretch of woods between prop­er­ties in Hamp­ton Town­ship did not con­sti­tute a forest, I have yet to out­grow my awe of, con­nec­tion to, or love of, wood­ed areas.

Mmm, trop­i­cal rain­forest. Yes, please.

Did you know that 80% of Earth’s ter­res­tri­al bio­di­ver­si­ty is found in forests?  And that while trop­i­cal rain­forests cov­er only 10% of the Earth’s sur­face, more than half of all ter­res­tri­al species are thought to live there?  And don’t be fooled by the phrase “thought to” in that sen­tence.  Half is prob­a­bly a sig­nif­i­cant under­es­ti­mate, since new species are being dis­cov­ered all the time, and many of the rain­forests through­out the world remain large­ly unex­plored.

Tem­per­ate Rain­forests are total­ly rad, you guys.

Also! When peo­ple hear the word rain­forest, they usu­al­ly think of the jun­gles of the trop­ics, but did you know that there are rain­forests right here in the USA?! On the West Coast of the USA and Canada is what’s known as a tem­per­ate rain­forest, stretch­ing from Kodi­ak Island in Alaska to North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.  Tem­per­ate rain­forests are also found on the south­ern tip of South Amer­i­ca, in Aus­tralia, North­west­ern Europe, and North­east­ern Asia.

Though most peo­ple think of leop­ards as com­ing only from warm cli­mates like the African Savan­nah, the Amur Leop­ard is native to a region of Siberia that boasts exter­me­ly harsh win­ters.

Prob­a­bly the coolest forest, though, is the taiga.  Taiga refers to the bio­me found just below the tun­dra at the Earth’s north pole.  There’s not real­ly south­ern taiga because Antarc­ti­ca is sur­round­ed by oceans, but the Arc­tic region is sur­round­ed on a few sides by North Amer­i­ca and Asia, and the land below the Arc­tic Cir­cle is home to the taiga. Taiga is char­ac­ter­ized by thick forests of ever­green, most­ly conif­er­ous trees, and weath­er pat­terns that can most eas­i­ly be described as tun­dra-lite.  Win­ters are long and sev­ere, sum­mers short and mild.  Despite the harsh liv­ing con­di­tions, though, the taiga is still home to plen­ty of awe­some plants and ani­mals.  The Asian taiga is home to the Siberi­an Tiger and the Amur Leop­ard, two of the rarest big cats in the world.  The taiga also con­tains approx­i­mate­ly one third of all the trees in the entire world, and pro­duces about one quar­ter of the oxy­gen we breathe.

Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green, deep woods.” — John Muir

Basi­cal­ly what I’m say­ing, peo­ple, is that forests are total­ly amaz­ing and are prob­a­bly the best thing on this entire plan­et of Earth.  With the way things are going, it’s like­ly that the entire con­cept of forests is going to rad­i­cal­ly be chang­ing in the next 50 years or so, so take the oppor­tu­ni­ty now to expe­ri­ence forests as they are, and may­be par­tic­i­pate in some of the ways that peo­ple are try­ing to pre­serve and pro­tect them.

Here’s anoth­er one of the taiga, because it’s awe­some.

You can learn more about the Unit­ed Nations’ Day of Forests efforts here.

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18 Mar

You Are Special To Me: Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers!

An Ode to Mr. Rogers

March 20 is Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor Day, in hon­or of the one, the only Mr. Rogers’s birth­day! Gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren grew up lis­ten­ing to the sooth­ing voice of Fred Rogers on his pub­lic broad­cast­ing tele­vi­sion pro­gram, Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood, which ran from 1968 to 2001. For mil­lions of chil­dren like me, Fred Rogers was much like Mom and Dad; he had no first name. To sug­gest he was more than Mr. Rogers, the cardi­gan-wear­ing, gold­fish-feed­ing friend I vis­it­ed almost every day, would be blas­phe­mous. But as I have learned since mov­ing to Pitts­burgh, Mr. Rogers’ actu­al neigh­bor­hood, he was much more than the man I knew.

Born Fred McFeely Rogers (yes, as in Mr. McFeely, from the Speedy Deliv­ery Ser­vice!), Mr. Rogers had a bachelor’s degree in music com­po­si­tion, was an ordained Pres­by­te­ri­an min­is­ter, and attend­ed Uni­ver­si­ty of Pittsburgh’s Grad­u­ate School of Child Devel­op­ment. He also held 40 hon­orary degrees from col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try. Not one. Not two. FORTY. In 2002, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush pre­sent­ed Mr. Rogers with the high­est civil­ian hon­or in the coun­try, the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, for a career encour­ag­ing the well-being of chil­dren through lessons of kind­ness, com­pas­sion, and learn­ing. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 74, leav­ing behind his wife, Joan­ne, of more than 50 years, two sons, and mil­lions of chil­dren whose child­hoods wouldn’t have been as mag­i­cal with­out him.

If for any rea­son you might want to vis­it Mr. Rogers’ “imag­i­nary” friends, includ­ing Daniel Striped Tiger and King Fri­day the Thir­teen­th (and ‘by any rea­son’ I mean ‘why wouldn’t you?’), they are housed in Pittsburgh’s Children’s Muse­um alongside one of his icon­ic sweaters (which his moth­er knit­ted), and his sneak­ers.

Mr. Rogers, thank you for being our neigh­bor, our men­tor, our friend. Hap­py birth­day, with love.

At Home With Mr. Rogers

Pitts­burghers, nos­tal­gia should be hit­ting you right in the feels, now, and you’re prob­a­bly think­ing ‘Man, I miss Mr. Rogers.’ He may not be around town any­more in per­son, but his spir­it is still alive. It’s always a lit­tle thrilling when a cus­tomer catch­es sight of one of Kards Unlimited’s Mr. Rogers prod­ucts and begins to regale me with a tale of meet­ing, din­ing, or actu­al­ly being a neigh­bor of the Rogers fam­i­ly.

For the rest of us, we can keep Mr. Rogers alive in our own house­holds with offi­cial­ly licensed Mr. Rogers gear. My favorite? Mis­ter Rogers Sweater Chang­ing Mug. Fea­tur­ing all of his most heart­warm­ing quotes, add a warm bev­er­age of choice, and his sweater changes between an icon­ic blue cardi­gan and yel­low cardi­gan. Some days, it’s the lit­tle things that make a per­son feel good, and this touch of mag­ic is a great way to start off the day on the right foot.

Some­times the world can seem like a scary place. Mr. Rogers always had a way of mak­ing his view­ers feel a lit­tle more coura­geous. He taught  us how to be gra­cious for what we have. He knew exact­ly what to say to make life a lit­tle eas­ier. Day to day, I wish there were more peo­ple like him, ready to give me a one-lin­er to help me through a chal­lenge, but he’s still there for me. When I need a boost of con­fi­dence before a meet­ing, I can pull out my Encour­agem­ints. The unbeat­able com­bo of fresh breath and an encour­ag­ing “Why? Because I like you!” calms the nerves. When I’m fac­ing a dead­line at school, noth­ing helps me take notes bet­ter than Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood sticky notes.

But the great­est gift we have from Mis­ter Fred Rogers will always be the words he left for us. When life gets a lit­tle com­pli­cat­ed, turn to any one of three vol­umes of Mis­ter Rogers wis­dom: Life’s Jour­ney Accord­ing to Mis­ter Rogers, The World Accord­ing to Mis­ter Rogers, and Many Ways to Say I Love You. The­se books prove that, though Mis­ter Rogers may be gone, he will always be our friend.


15 Mar

Straighten Up, Richard!

March 15 is Nation­al Penis Day, and let me be the first to tell you, this hol­i­day will grow on you. Both men and wom­en can take time out of their busy sched­ule to appre­ci­ate this above-aver­age day. Men around the world need not hide their man­hood; today is a day of reflec­tion, spec­u­la­tion, and bask­ing in the glo­ry that is your penis. You think with it, you show affec­tion with it, and some­times, if the time is right, you put it in a fresh apple pie.

Your penis deserves to have its veil pulled back and shown what it has accom­plished.  Your penis’s great­est accom­plish­ment is prob­a­bly not get­ting hard when your cute co-work­er dressed up as Hermione for the Hal­loween par­ty, but there have also been penis­es made famous in movies, TV, and even had molds cast of them, pre­serv­ing them forever. Bet you feel pret­ty inad­e­quate.

The cin­e­ma: a won­der­ful world of cul­ture, action, and sym­bol­ism. Where any­thing can be con­sid­ered “art” if you say it is. Some con­sid­er art beau­ti­ful cin­e­matog­ra­phy, oth­ers how well the movie is edit­ed, or the col­or palet­te. But some of the most artis­tic cin­e­mat­ic moments are when an actor hangs dong. Take the clas­sic movie Boo­gie Nights. Mark Wahlberg expos­es what is now known to be a pros­thet­ic penis, but still shocked audi­ences, nonethe­less. And who could for­get when Hodor from HBO’s Game of Thrones let it all hang out, show­ing us the baby arm he’s been hid­ing.  Though this is my per­son­al favorite penis scene in a movie [NSFW].

Now how awe­some would it be if your John­son was cast in plas­ter for every­one to ogle over? Pret­ty frig­gin’ sweet if you ask me. Most of us won’t be so lucky, though, unless you were a rock star in the 60’s and 70’s. If you hap­pen to fall into the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, there’s a good chance Cyn­thia Plas­ter Cast­er took a mold of your naughty bits. She is a groupie turned artist, tak­ing plas­ter molds of every rock star she came across, most notably Jimi Hen­drix. I can­not think of a bet­ter way I’d want my guy remem­bered; I just hope the plas­ter isn’t too cold.

So, let’s say for your fam­i­ly vaca­tion you want to go some­where that will impress Craig in HR, because his fam­i­ly just went to Den­mark and he won’t shut up about how great it was. You look on Kayak and see flights to Ice­land are pret­ty cheap. You arrive in Reyk­javik, only to have your fam­i­ly com­plain the whole time how cold it is, that the food is weird, and how much longer is this hike? Bunch of ungrate­ful brats. You storm off in a huff and decide to make your own adven­ture in Ice­land. After some brews at one of the many bars in town you stum­ble around until you see a build­ing that catch­es your eye. As you get closer, yes, it does say that. You have found The Ice­landic Phal­lo­log­i­cal Muse­um.

This muse­um has over 200 dif­fer­ent penis­es from land and sea mam­mals that inhab­it Ice­land. I’m not sure you can get any more appre­cia­tive of the penis. The wild world of ani­mal penis­es will tru­ly make you stand back and mar­vel at what Moth­er Nature has given the world to cre­ate with. Though the col­lec­tion was miss­ing a human penis, the founder of the muse­um was deter­mined to find one. I will not go into that sto­ry, though, because there is already a doc­u­men­tary about it called The Final Mem­ber, which chron­i­cles the strange sto­ry of how a human penis end­ed up in the muse­um.

Today is a day to rise up, let it all hang out, and pull out all the stops. There is some­thing pure, uncut about Nation­al Penis Day. It’s like look­ing into your Long John Sil­vers bag and see­ing they gave you extra crab cakes. It’s just a sil­ly lit­tle hol­i­day that has grown into some­thing that all peo­ple can appre­ci­ate, for about sev­en min­utes, may­be ten if you’re lucky. So men, pull out those nut-hug­ger jeans, wear sweat­pants with no under­wear, or put your penis in the fridge for a lit­tle just to see what hap­pens. Enjoy the day, it only comes once a year.


9 Mar

I know you think you have a favorite instrument, but you’re probably wrong.

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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