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History of the Bagpipe

Scotland's national instrument, the Bagpipe or in Gaelic "piob-mhor" (the great pipe) did not originate in Scotland. The Bagpipe has a long and honourable history stretching back to the beginnings of civilization, for it is one of the oldest of instruments played by man. A great deal of uncertainty, conflict and controversy surrounds the questions of the origins, evolution and distribution of bagpipes. Numerous wind instruments are visible in very old Mediterranean and Asian art; but bagpipes were just about invisible, until the late middle ages when suddenly, as if out of nowhere, they appear in all sorts of artwork, beginning with the illustrations in the Cantigas de Santa Maria (1200 - 1300 A.D.).

The "Oxford History of Music" mentions the first documented bagpipe being found on a Hittite slab at Eyuk. There is biblical mention made of the bagpipe in Genesis and in the Daniel where the "symphonia" in Nebuchadnezzar's band is believed to have been a bagpipe. These early pipes or "Pan" pipes, without the bag or reservoir, were probably the second musical instrument to evolve. Early pipes were made of materials with a natural bore (hollow reeds, corn stalks, bamboos, etc.).

Bagpipes probably had their beginnings in ancient Egypt -where a simple chanter and drone were played together. In time probably they were attached to a bag, and a blowstem was added. It was most likely a rather crude instruments comprised of reeds stuck into a goatskin bag. As civilization spread throughout the Middle East and into the Mediterranean lands, the people brought along their music. Although the existence of the bagpipes before the first century is thought to be documented by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in his work, The Acharnians where he wrote, "You pipers who are here from Thebes, with bone pipes blow the posterior of a dog," there are no solid indications until the first century when a very famous piper came to rule Rome. Nero considered himself a good piper as well as many other things. He even had the bagpipes put on a coin. "They say he can.....play the aulos both with his mouth and also with his armpit, a big bag being thrown under it, in order that he might escape the disfigurement of Athens," Dio Chrysostom wrote in 115 A.D.

It was in the Scottish and Irish evergreen landscapes that the pipes reached their highest level of popularity. During the 14th century, the bagpipes could be found in nearly every village. In addition to the music they provide for enjoyment, bagpipes were used to rally the clans to battle, usually against the English. The English found the pipes so disturbing that the banned the Scots and the Irish from playing them at any time. In the Second World War - pipers led the troops to battle - the Germans were heard to say - "here come the Women from Hell".

Over the years, the bagpipes grew in sophistication. More pipes were added, enabling the musician to reach a wider range of notes. There are a number of different pipes - like:

The Scottish or Highland pipe is the best known in the world now. It has one bass drone harmonizing with two tenor drones and being tuned to the pitch of the pipe chanter. These pipes range from a basic set with wooden mounts and plain nickel ferrules, to the top of the range set, furnished with chased sterling silver mounts, ferrules, slides, caps, mouthpiece tube, and sole.

The Chamber pipes are growing in popularity, as these are in effect simply a version of the Highland pipe, and much easier to blow - the fingering technique is identical, as is the method of blowing and squeezing. However, the final sound is much quieter, with a haunting quality; these pipes tend to be played indoors.

Similarly, the Scottish Small pipe produces a mellow sound, but this style is played across the knees with the use of a bellows. No blowing at all is required.

The Practice pipes with two brass drones which produce an excellent steady sound. The chanter of the pipes is made from African Blackwood and, overall, these pipes have an amazing sound - not dissimilar to small pipes.

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