The tune you hear in the background is called "The Steam Train to Mallaig". The midi sample isn't a good representation of the tune. It was performed in concert by The Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion Black Watch and is on their CD entitled "The Ladies From Hell".
Did you hear the light feet marching, marching down the birch-clad glen?
Did you see the piper's streamers floating, floating far behind the men?
Did you hear the brave tunes ringing as they swung the drones on high?
Did you watch the rhythm of the kilt? Did you hear the war march die?
Oh piper lads, Oh piper lads what magic woven spell the magician
Breathed within your reeds, is not for mortal voice to tell.
The wizard winds through reed and drone the soul draws on to follow after
To splendid heights of hero fame or spell bound, led to grim disaster.
Did you hear the brave tunes ringing as the swung the drones on high?
Did you watch the rhythm of the kilt? Did you
hear the war march die?
A Brief History of the Bagpipes...
The following excerpts come from a two-part video series produced and directed by Patrick King and Grahame Wickings called "Instrument of War". Part One, entitled "Ladies From Hell" tells the story of the Great Highland War-Pipe and its influence in history. The use of the pipes in war is very ancient among the Celtic (pronounced Kel-tic) people. Whenever they fought, the sound of the War-Pipe was heard. In battle, it was said to be worth a hundred guns and it's ammunition, a music so potent it inspires men to valor and strikes terror in the enemy. There is no doubt about it, it will rise a sick man from his bed.
It is said when a piper plays, he is in touch with the past. A sense of being at one with generations of long ago is totally unique. The Scottish writer Neil Monroe once said “To the make of a piper goes seven years of his own learning, and seven generations before. At the end of his seven years, one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, and leaning a fond ear to the drone he may have parley with old folks of old affairs”.
It is ironic that music should be associated with the business of killing. The use of music in war derives from the demands of war itself. It was used to communicate with or inspire troops in the field. But only one musical instrument was officially classified as a "weapon of war". Its sound stirred men's souls. Its power and influence in battle was unique. The Ancients called it the "Great War-Pipe of the North".
Its effect became legendary. Every battle, every war produced its hero piper. They played through American forests, Asian mountains and African deserts encouraging all who heard them. It is an instrument that can be heard above gun-fire. The world has known the bagpipe in one form or another for nearly 5000 years. Most have long since disappeared yet the Great Highland Bagpipe has endured to become more popular than ever.
Today, the bagpipe remains the one primal element in the sophisticated gadgetry of modern warfare. When the Scottish Regiments went to the Gulf, they took pipers as well. Whenever there was a chance to play the pipes, they got them out and they played them. It had the same effect in 1991 as it did in 1791, or 1691 or 1591.
The bagpipe is so firmly associated with Scotland that many people naturally assume the instrument was invented there. This idea is certainly wrong. Reed pipes, which are mentioned in the scriptures can be traced to Pharaohs, Egypt and the Holy Land. Since man first discovered he could make sounds by blowing down a hollow reed, there has been a devotion to the pipe and it's simple scale. For thousands of years, as the sun set nightly, valleys would echo to the ancient pipe both in peace and in war. Eventually, the idea came of harnessing a bag as a reservoir of air to the simple Reed Pipe. And thus, the bagpipe was born.
It was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, that the bagpipe is first mentioned by name. According to Tassitus, Nero had promised if his health improved, he would play at the Games. The organ was the bag under his arm - it seems Nero was a piper. Historians cannot figure out what else it could have been except the bagpipe. Perhaps Nero played the bagpipe and not the fiddle while Rome burned. It has been suggested that in fact the Romans brought the bagpipe to Scotland. The Roman soldiers march to the bagpipe. It is said that they marched all over Europe so they may have taken the bagpipe there so one would have to believe that if one group was to be the originators, it would have to be them.
By the Middle Ages, every country in Europe had its own bagpipe. In Italy, they were linked to the Nativity, and in Spain, Germany and Holland the sound was heard at festivals and fairs. The English bagpipe was very popular too. Chaucer mentions them in the "Canterbury Tales" and Shakespeare in several of his plays.
Bagpipes were often associated with the devil. And the Romanian ruler Glad who was the original Dracula, impaled 20,000 victims to it's sound. There was a time in fact when bagpipes and fiddles were put in a heap and burned in some parts of the Highlands because the Minister felt that they were the instrument of the devil. The people who condemned it as devil's music must have had that reaction to it themselves. Maybe they felt the hair stand up on the back of their necks or perhaps that the music was something not of this world and therefore shouldn't be played.
It seems that the devil had a hand in creating the famous German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. A mysterious bagpiper in fantastic costume who agreed to rid the town of a plague of rats, which he did by playing a hypnotic tune on his instrument. The town's inhabitants, fearing sorcery, refused to pay for his service. The Pied Piper took his revenge by playing the hypnotic tune again and this time it was Hamelin's children that followed him never to be seen again.
Several armies adopted pipers. The Poles put them on horses, the Swiss in colorful costume and the Prussians in Turkish Fezzes. Ireland developed the use of pipes in war before Scotland and in fact the English King Edward I used Irish pipes to defeat the Scottish army sent against him. His grandson, Edward III also used Irish pipes when capturing a considerable portion of France. The reason the Highland bagpipe is the predominant one on the world is simple. The Scots kept playing them years after everybody else had more or less given up. In fact, it took over from the harp in the early days. Harpers used to stand up when the Clans were ready to go into battle and shout how great they were and how great their ancestors were and what they were going to do and play the harp. Of course, only the first three ranks heard them so the piper took over and he played.
The very tone of the instrument gives a war-like appearance. They say they can be heard over the sound of battle. Obviously this put fear into the enemy and let them know they were on their way. A mystique grew around the War-Pipe. It wasn't so much that it insured victory, but it touched a nerve inside people who heard it; friend or foe. In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell while subduing the unruly Scots and Irish was worried enough to issue the proclamation:
"Anyone found playing the bagpipe will be banished... to Barbados."
The bagpipe has been developed purely as an instrument of war right from the earliest days when the Piper's duty was to gather the Clan, ready to march along with their Chief and in other instances gathering ready to march to war. The Great War-Pipe was in constant use as the Clans plunged Scotland in to a series of Civil wars. Then in 1745, the last effort by the Stewarts to regain the throne of Britain took place led by the romantically named Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of the exiled Stewart King James II. From the raising of his standard at Glenfinnan to his final defeat, the bagpipe seemed to dominate the rebellion. Prince Charlie loved the bagpipes, and his army marched south to the sound of "A Hundred Pipers".
The end of the golden age for a Piobaireachd (pronounced pee-brock) of piping occurred with the defeat of the Clans at Culloden. A Piobaireachd is the classical and mystic music of the Great Highland Bagpipe. This is the music that summoned the clans to battle, celebrated sweet victory and terrible loss, commemorated murder, and lamented the deaths of their chiefs and heroes. The clans hadn't been winning very well and they got as far south as Derby and then turned to head North again. The Clans were like that. They tended to go out and do a short battle and then go home. So by the time they got to Culloden, Prince Charlie's army was completely destroyed.
The fact that more Scots fought for the government than Prince Charlie, was a deciding factor on why the defeated Highlanders were treated as rebels and not Prisoners of War. So closely was the bagpipe associated with Charlie's cause, that one rebel piper was put on trial and his fate would immortalize the role of war-pipe on the battlefield forever. Piper James Reed's defense of being merely a musician was not accepted by the trial judge who concluded:
"The plea of not carrying arms and of being merely a musician is spurious. And the case of armed rebellion against the crown is proven. For its in the experience of this court that a Highland Regiment has neither marched nor fought without a piper and therefore the bagpipe in the eye of the law is an instrument of war."
So, for the first time in history, a musical instrument was officially declared a weapon of war. As for James Reed, he was hanged, drawn and quartered at the gates of York. After Culloden, Parliament passed a law ending the old Highland way of life including the playing of the bagpipe. A law was enacted called the "Act of Prescription". This made it illegal to wear a tartan, or speak Gaelic or wear a kilt. But piping did survive and ironically enough, it was due to the British army. William Pitt had this bright idea. He figured "why let Highlanders fight one another? Why not let them fight for the British government?" He then started raising the Highland Regiments and one of the incentives was that the people would be aloud to wear kilts and they would be aloud to play the bagpipes.
The Duke of Gordon had said that he would raise a regiment of infantry and his wife Jean, who was a very beautiful lady and her three beautiful daughters went around the fairs and small towns of the North and Northeast of Scotland and she offered not just the first day's pay, which was the normal thing for a Sergeant to offer but actually a kiss as well. It is said that the Duchess raised a regiment in a very short time. 1,100 men. Between 1757 and 1800 there were around 26 highland regiments raised.
Piping received a new stimulus by the raising of the Highland Regiments and it was in this way that the Great Highland Bagpipe made its first real impact on the rest of the world. The Highland War-Pipes have played an important part in American history. They were first heard in anger when the Black Watch Regiment (42nd Royal Highland Regiment) stormed Fort Ticonderoga in 1758. An event commemorated every year up until 1998 at the Fort's Military Tattoo.
So, You Think You Want To Be A Piper...
Beware, becoming a piper is no small investment of money OR time. I will use myself as an example. The photo shows a typical "Daywear uniform".
Shoes - Called "Ghillie Brogues". Usually black to match the waist belt and sporran. They have long laces that wrap around the leg several times and tie in the front displaying their decorative tassels. ($100)
Hose - Basically "socks". They come in a wide variety of styles and colors. For private performances, I prefer the white bulky or "Popcorn" style which refers to the puffy top. The color usually matches the primary a color of the kilt. ($25 - $50 if hand made)
Flashes - The colored "flags" that extend below the hose top. The elastic garter helps to hold the hose in place. ($10)
Waist Belt - Made of leather, usually black to match the shoes and sporran. ($50)
Waist Belt Buckle - Generally depicts clan affiliation. ($35 - $55)
Sporran - The "pouch" worn in front about one hand's width from the top of the waist belt. As part of the Daywear Uniform, it is made of leather in a color to match the waist belt and shoes. It holds what you would normally put in your pants pockets. More traditional sporrans are made of horse-hair and have no pouch. They are customarily worn as part of a military style uniform. ($75 - $300)
Glengarry - Daywear "hat". May be all black or include a red & black "diced" headband. ($55)
Cap Badge - The badge worn on the piper's left side of the Glengarry. It usually depicts clan affiliation and matches the waste belt buckle. ($15 - $25)
Kilt - Varies with waist size. Made with 9 yards of 16 oz worsted wool. Wraps around the waist 1 1/2 times and buckles once on the piper's left hip and twice on the right hip. ($525)
Kilt Pin - A decorative pin often made of pewter worn about 3" above the bottom of the kilt over the piper's right leg. It may depict clan affiliation. ($15)
Sgian Dubh - (Pronounced Skeen-doo) Gaelic for black knife or dagger. Worn inside the piper's right hose-top exposing only the handle. The scabbard (blade/sheath) is concealed inside the hose. In ancient times used as a weapon as a last resort. ($50)
Inverness Cape - A water repellent cape that protects the piper from rain. ($100)
Argyle Jacket - (Optional) I wear a black "Prince Charlie" style jacket. They are also available in straight and gauntlet styles in several different colors. These give a very professional appearance to the piper. ($300)
Bagpipes - A set (technically a "stand") of pipes varies in price first by quality and second by ornamentation. A good set is made of hand-turned genuine African Blackwood. The projecting mounts and ring caps are made of imitation ivory and the ferrules are made of nickel. Mine were made by Gillanders & MacLeod and cost about $1,700. A high end set of Shepherds with sterling silver hand- etched ornamentation would be over $5,000. Don't forget the hand made cane pipe chanter reeds. They range anywhere from $8 - $12 each and if you drop, chip or otherwise damage it, you throw it away. Then there are drone reeds (2 tenor and 1 bass) which might be cane (wood) or synthetic (plastic) such as Omega or Rocket reeds. How about the bag? Traditional hide or Canmore/Goretex? How about a water trap? A Ross Canister? Zipper or clamp enclosure? Once these choices are made, get out your pre-waxed black hemp so you can wrap EACH joint to make it airtight. There is so much more to tell...
Trust me, seek the assistance of someone with experience before you make what could be a once in a lifetime investment.
Some popular links...
Lake George Community Band - Ray Durkee/Director
Matt Farrigan - Highland Circus
Donald Lindsay - The Invermark College of Piping & Drumming
Henderson Imports, Ltd.
J. Higgins, Ltd.
The British Shop
Robert MacNeil Musicworks - Bagpipe Music Writer Gold
Tommy Jackson - EZ Piper
Adirondack Pipes and Drums
Galloway Gaelic Pipes and Drums
Simon Fraser University Pipe Band
City of Washington Pipe Band
78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band
House of Edgar - Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band
Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band
Strathclyde Police Pipe Band
Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band
New York City Fire Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums
Oran Mor Pipe Band
Schenectady Pipe Band
Eastern United States Pipe Band Association
Piper & Drummer Magazine
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