The Great Highland Bagpipe

 A set of  Scottish Great Highland Pipes:

1) Chanter

2) Bag

3) Stock

4) Blowstick or blowpipe

5) Tenor drones

6) Bass drone

7) Tuning Slide

8) Cords


Probably the most well known pipes are the Great Highland Bagpipes (commonly abbreviated GHBs), which were developed in Scotland and Ireland. The picture at above shows a set of Great Highland Bagpipes.  A modern set has a bag, a chanter, a blowpipe, two tenor drones, and one bass drone. The GHB is widely used by both soloists and pipe bands (civilian and military), and is now played in countries around the world, particularly those with large Scottish and Irish emigrant populations, namely Canada, United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It has also been adopted by many countries "touched on" by the British Empire, such as India (where it replaced the local bagpipes, "Moshak" and "Shruti"), Pakistan (with an extensive GHB manufacture), the Gurkas of Nepal (famous for their soldiers), Arabic countries, and Uganda (where Idi Amin forbade the export of African Blackwood, so as to encourage local bagpipe construction, during the1970s) ... History of the Great Highland Bagpipe The bagpipes have existed in one form or another for longer than history records. The earliest pipe melodies passed down to us date back to the twelfth century. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, bagpipes were common all over Europe. During the latter days of knights in shining armor on into the eighteenth century, the clan chiefs in Scotland, with their great kilts and huge claymore swords, carried the responsibility of supporting a piper for local festivities and for playing for the chief's own enjoyment.

Three types of music evolved: piobaireachd, the great music of the highland bagpipe; and the music we call "light music," which was played for dances - jigs, reels, and strathspeys. Many of the clans adopted tunes of both types as their own. Warring clans would be led into battle inspired by the pipers playing their battle tune. The Scots fought long against domination by the English. The noise of the pipes together with the fierce war cries of the kilted "savages" of the north would strike fear into the hearts of the English soldiers. The Scots were finally disastrously defeated at the famous battle of Culloden in 1745. The English, determined to rid themselves of a thorn in their side forever, passed laws prohibiting playing of the bagpipe and wearing of the kilt on pain of death.

It was not until the 1800s that the ban was lifted. Much of the musical piping tradition was lost because the tunes were not written down, but three vessels carried some music through those many times. First was the oral tradition - piping tunes were sung without words as "mouth music," as style of singing still preserved by a few in Scotland today. Second, many piobaireachd were preserved with a special language called cantaireachd, which represented the notes and gracenotes using syllables which could be written by anyone who knew the alphabet; and finally, there were a very few people who preserved the skill of playing the pipe despite serious threat to their lives. By the time the ban was lifted, it had done its job well. The Scots were well integrated into the British Empire. Famous Scottish regiments such as the Scots Guards, the Gordon Highlanders, the Black Watch, and the Fraser Highlanders were raised in the nineteenth century as part of the powerful British military force.

The Scottish regiments earned strong reputations as some of the bravest and fiercest of His Majesty's Army in battles from Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated to the Boer Wars in South Africa to the defeats of the independent rajahs of India. But where ever they went, the Scottish regiments brought bagpipes with them. By then using modern weapons of the British army, the soldiers continued to be inspired by their highland bagpipe on the battlefield. And the pipers continued to lead.

In the early days of World War I they leaped from the trenches in charges against the German machine guns, leading the troops through the hail of bullets. After some time an order was issued - pipers were to remain behind the trenches and not lead - because they became targets, and were killed faster than new ones could be taught. Yet their courage remained unabated. The Scottish regiments still maintain their pipe bands with pride today.

Musical competitions of individual pipers against each other go back centuries. We have detailed records of piping competitions at highland gatherings back to the mid-1800s. The bagpipe band, however, is a newer phenomenon that rose in the British army, where pipes combined with the military drum for ceremonies of pomp and circumstance. And in fact, it was not until about one hundred years ago that the Scottish bagpipe became standardized in its modern form, the Great Highland Bagpipe, with three drones and a chanter. During the 1800s, yet another form of pipe music became popular with individuals and pipe bands, music which required skillful finger work to perform. These marches, strathspeys, and reels, referred to in Gaelic as "ceol mor," are commonly played in competitions today.

During the 1900s, the pipe band tradition spread well beyond the British military. Small towns throughout Scotland began their own bands, which strove to be the best at several dozen highland games held through the summers. The individual pipers would compete in the mornings, and then the bands would play. Now the largest competition in Scotland at Cowal Highland Games has pipe bands playing all day on two days, at two or three different locations, scheduled back-to-back like clockwork.

The Great Highland Bagpipe has also spread throughout the world, wherever the Scottish people have gone. New Zealand, Australia, and Canada all have strong piping traditions, and it is growing at a steady pace in the United States as well.    ...


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