History of Bagpipes


What would give anyone the idea to put some sticks into an animal's stomach and blow on them to make music?? It is difficult to trace the exact origin of the bagpipes, however there are some historical instruments that seem to have led to the way the pipes are most known today. Recognized for its appearance as well as its unique sound, this instrument is well-known around the world. Contrary to popular belief, it did not originate in Scotland or Ireland.

The look and design of the bagpipes have changed over time. A hornpipe-like instrument was the first of its sort, but it is unclear when the bag was attached. Starting with only one drone, eventually the second and third were added. Similar instruments were used in the Middle East long before the birth of Christ. The current design of the Great Highland Bagpipes has 3 drones (1 bass and 2 tenors), a pipe bag, a chanter, a blowpipe, chanter reed, and drone reeds.

In 400 BC, Ancient Greeks used bagpipes made with man's best friend. That's right, a dog skin bag with bones for chanters!!! Various holes were drilled in the bones to allow for different notes. Emperor Nero is believed to have played the pipes. The Romans brought the pipes across Europe including the British Isles. It was during the 14th century that their popularity rose throughout Scotland and Ireland It is said that the pipes were present at the famed Battle of Bannockburn in Scotland in 1314. For over 1000 years, the pipes have been associated with the Celtic race.

Although the Great Highland Bagpipes are the most common in the world, there are actually over 30 varieties of bagpipes. Currently, Scotland and Pakistan are the largest producers of bagpipes, although often very different in quality. Traditionally made of African Blackwood, many manufacturers are now also offering plastic models for durability and ease of maintenance. Manufacturers are also moving from traditional leather bags and cane reeds to synthetic options. Various models of electronic bagpipes are also now available.

Bagpipes were been banned in Scotland in 1560 after the Reformation. It is often said that they were banned again in 1747 after the Battle of Culloden, although this is debated. The debate comes from the Act of Proscription which forbade the wearing of Highland Dress and the possession of weapons by Highlanders, but does not specifically mention the bagpipes. As the Regiments always marched with a Piper, bagpipes were deemed an instrument of war. Pipers were present at both World Wars, the Boer War, the Gulf War, Desert Storm, and more. At least 500 Pipers were killed during WWI.

Since their history was first studied in the 18th century, the bagpipes' distinct sound and appearance has become recognizable throughout the world.

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