History of the Bagpipe

Bagpipe elements

The Bagpipe is a woodwind instrument utilizing 4 reeds with a bag as an air reservoir. There are three drones which are reeded that play a constant tone. The melody is played on the reeded chanter. A blowpipe fills the bag. Air pressure from the mouth and bag force air through the drones and chanter, and sound is produced.

Bagpipes can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt where a small pipe and drone were played by mouth. Later on, the bag was added along with the blowpipe, and the sound became constant. By the time of Christ, the bagpipe was well established in the Middle East.

The Romans brought the pipes back to Rome where they became very popular. It was said that Nero was an accomplished piper. The Romans spread the pipes throughout their empire. The Germans developed their version called the dudelsack. The French had their musette, while other varieties evolved in the Balkans and Spain. The Romans finally brought the bagpipe to England and Scotland.

Of all of the varieties of bagpipe, the "Great Highland Bagpipe" became best known. Piping became an integral part of Highland clan society in Scotland. In 1745, the failed Scottish rebellion against England changed the ways that Scots could play their pipes. English Parliament passed the 'Acts of Proscription' as an attempt to destroy the Highland culture. The 'Acts' outlawed the wearing of the kilt and playing of the bagpipes. The one exception was that Scottish men who joined the British army could wear the kilt and play their bagpipes in their units.

By 1800, England began to expand its influence by the might of Scottish bayonets. Highland regiments like the 42nd, 79th, 92nd, and 93rd served throughout the empire, and with it came the proliferation of the Great Highland Bagpipe. No longer a curiosity, the pipes are now played in units of the Jordanian army, Ghurkas brigade, Hong Kong police, and bands in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. The pipes were even played at both the Alamo and in Custer's army. Many American colleges have bagpipe bands including the Naval Academy. Don't forget Clan Donald Pipes and Drums of Wisconsin.