Friday, October 17, 2014

What Are The Actual Origins Of Scottish Bagpipes?

Bagpipe History and Facts

There is a term called "logic of structure" which suggests that if enough common elements come together, the same thing will be invented or spread from one invention.

Scottish Bagpipes
Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
In historical times, the pipes have been common to many areas, most of which are, or have been Celtic. These elements all involve sheep. On Mallorca, most villages have a paid town piper, and some of which have pipe bands. Local lore suggests that Galicia (Celt-Iberian) is the source. Whenever anything important is about to happen, they fire a cannon from the roof of the city hall. People gather in the pla├ža. If the mayor speaks from the balcony, he is preceded by a piper, and a pipe & taborer. If he goes anywhere, to cut a ribbon, open a festival, etc, he is preceded by these two. Two villages over, Petra, has a pipe band of two divisions pipers, and pipe & taborers. Soldiers have always had music to inspire them to battle. In Celtic countries, as others, the instruments were the same ones they already had. The Scottish pipes for dancing is relatively new outside of the military context. Dancing was performed to a fiddle, flute, or musette (chamber pipes). The pipes usually seen now in both contexts are war pipes.

Since poor rural people have always been used as mercenaries and cannon fodder, the Scots and Irish have historically always hired themselves out for "foreign" armies. The use of pipes for colonial UK forces is simply an extension of the pipes that the Scots and Irish brought with them. After the invention of public police forces, again "foreigners" were hired to do the job because they had no emotional ties with the people they were policing. So you have Scots in England (Scotland Yard), and Irish in New York. Which explains why many American police forces have pipe bands, and use a piper at the funeral of a policeman.

The only difference between the Spanish pipes and the standard Celtic ones is that they are tuned to "C" instead of "D", and the drones (bourdons) hang down in front instead being over the shoulder. One result of the drone on the shoulder phenomena is that the piper, as leader, is often the standard bearer with a "pipe" banner flying from the base drone.

For a long time, Spain and Portugal have given up the sheep´s bladder for the bag as it smells bad, is unsanitary, and does not last very long. The standard is now a rubber (Portugal used to own Brazil) bag where the only problem is that it has to be drained of moisture now and then. Also the wood is not as hard as that currently used in the UK which comes from Africa. Again "logic of structure", pipes, unlike other wind instruments cannot be "tongued" (Uilleann pipes in Ireland have a plunger to solve this problem). This means that the sound is constant and always legato. Because there are no mechanical stops as on an oboe or clarinet, going from certain notes to other´s causes "bad (unharmonic)" sounds. The solution is to play other "grace" notes in between to get over the rough spots. Because of this, the little "deedeedledeedee" trills typical of Celtic music is common to both Ireland, Scotland, and Spain, which gives the tunes a particularly Celtic sound. This has been transferred over to Celtic vocal music, where the singer often adds a harmonic grace note between two melody notes so that it sounds as if they have missed the right one for a split second before the singer "slurs" into the correct resolution of the tune.

Just as North British pipes are covered with the same material as is found on the kilt, usually tartan, the same is true in that the woolen material covering the bag in Spain is of their particular weave which is not quadratic but features rectangles instead of squares and stresses the shapes, as in Welsh "tartan" instead of the lines as in a Scottish tartan.

Although the pipe & tabour is not currently known in a North British context, there is evidence that it was common in the North well into the 1800´s.

Pipes are also common to other sheep raising countries, but are of a different style. If you travel to Arab countries, the Balkans, rural Germany, or Poland, you will see pipes of the Spanish variety except that there is usually only one drone (again pointing down, and not on the shoulder).

Combi Orchestra of Scottish Pipers and Drummers ( Army Bagpipe Music)

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