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Travel anywhere in Scotland and you are sure to hear the country’s signature sound…the wail of bagpipes. Pipers stand on street corners, playing for tourists. In Edinburgh, a piper always strategically occupies the corner near Princes Street Gardens and the train station.
On the Royal Mile in Old Town, pipers perform every few blocks. And if you visit gorgeous Glen Coe, in the Highlands, there’s usually a lone piper playing.
Military tattoos, weddings, funerals, celebrations and parties all feature the magical sound of bagpipes. Whether you love the sound or not, bagpipes and Scotland go together.
Check out these fun facts about Scottish bagpipes and learn something new about them.
Fun Facts About Scottish Bagpipes
The bagpipe looks simple, in design, and yet what a complex instrument to play. And its rich history goes back centuries. Check out these fun facts.
Original Bagpipes Made of Skin
Early bagpipes were literally made from skin bags. Crafters cleaned small animal carcasses…such as goats or sheep…and turned them inside out. Pipes made from bamboo or hollow stalks were sewn into the places where the neck and limbs once existed.
Today bagpipes are fashioned from synthetic leather, plastics and metals.
March to War
The practice of piping during war began in the 1746 Battle of Culloden in Scotland, during the Jacobite uprising. Thereafter, every battle included a line of pipers that led soldiers into the fray.
During the first and second world wars, Scottish soldiers marched to the sound of bagpipes. The practice was suspended after 3000 pipers fell by German machinegun fire.
The Sound that Carries
There’s no volume control when piping. Because of that, the music from bagpipes carries for approximately ten miles. The Scots hoped to instill fear in their enemies, by playing the bagpipes.
It’s a extraordinary and moving experience to hear the lone piper playing in Glen Coe, in the Highlands. The music echoes down the long rugged valley, sending shivers down the spine. My eyes filled with tears.
Scotland the Brave
The most popular bagpipe song in Scotland is “Scotland the Brave”, the unofficial Scottish anthem. Listen for the song at military celebrations, graduation parties and special events.
Other Countries Have Bagpipes Too
Scotland isn’t the only country that enjoys bagpipe music. You can find pipers in England, Ireland, Northwestern Spain, Bulgaria, the US, Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand.
The bagpipes are commonly used in police ceremonies and funerals with Amazing Grace most often played.
Queen Elizabeth Loves the Bagpipe
The Queen supposedly loves the sound of bagpipes. She prefers to wake up every morning at 9:30 to the sound of bagpipes, rather than a traditional alarm clock. A piper plays beneath her bedroom window, for about 15 minutes. Her husband, Prince Philip, didn’t appreciate the bagpipes as much.
Bagpipes Outlawed Twice
The British government banned piping and wearing a kilt after the 1560 Reformation in Scotland.
And after the Jacobite Uprising, bagpipes were considered war instruments. Pipers ran the risk of hanging for owning or playing bagpipes.
Bagpipes are Aerophones
Each bagpipe possesses at least one drone pipe. Once playing starts, air flows constantly through the drones, resulting in continuous notes. There are no breaks between notes. The notes between songs are called grace notes.
The piper keeps the bag full of air by blowing into with a tube or pumping it with bellows. To create music, he or she presses the bag so that the air flows through the chanter. Each drone pipe plays a different note.
Bagpipes Have a Melody Pipe
The melody pipe on a bagpipe is called the chanter. It only produces nine notes, from G to A, with no sharps or flats.
National Bagpipe Day is March 10
March 10 is International Bagpipe Day and it’s the perfect time to celebrate this amazing instrument. Pipers gather around the world to play in concerts, perform in schools and entertain on street corners.
A skilled piper, the tyrant Nero played often. And since fiddles didn’t exist yet when Rome burned, perhaps Nero piped instead.
Romans possibly introduced bagpipes into Scotland.
There Are 130 Kinds of Bagpipes
Around the world, 130 varieties of bagpipes exist. The Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland sounds distinctly different from the Irish Uillean Pipe.
Yea or Nay for Bagpipes?
Personally, I love the sound of bagpipes. The haunting music calls to something deep in my soul. My heart beats faster when I hear bagpipes and I feel a strong connection to that noble country. I own many CDs of bagpipe music, including several by the popular band, Red Hot Chili Pipers.
What about you? Do you enjoy bagpipe music? What’s your favorite song?
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