Community Alert - Not If, But When Disaster Strikes Presents:
Internationally renowned piper Robert Heggie talks about the history of the bag pipe, its ceremonial use by police, fire and military organizations around the word and the Greatest Scot of All Time Robert Burns. Learn more about the Palm Spring Pipe Band founders, Robert Heggie and Rod Cribbes, here.
History of the kilt
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_kilt
Highland chieftain Lord Mungo Murray wearing belted plaid, around 1680.
The History of the Kilt stretches back to at least the end of the 16th century. The kilt first appeared as the belted plaid or great kilt, a full length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, or brought up over head as a cloak. The small kilt or walking kilt (similar to the 'modern' kilt) did not develop until the late 17th or early 18th century, and is essentially the bottom half of the great kilt.
The word kilt comes from the Scots word kilt meaning to tuck up the clothes around the body, although the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (vol. 15, p. 798) says the word is Scandinavian in origin. The Scots word derives from the Old Norse kjalta, from Norse settlers who wore a similar, pleated garment. Learn more on Wikipedia.
The Great Highland Bagpipe - a very brief overview
A "bagpipe" is a class of woodwind instrument with enclosed reeds (one chanter and 3 drone reeds) fed from a constant reservoir of air, the bag (animal skin or synthetic). The GHB is a 4 reed, 3 droned bagpipe (there are many other types around the world). The bag is fed exhaled air through a "blowstick". A valve stops air from returning to the player's mouth and air is squeezed from the bag to maintain constant pressure to maintain the sounds produced by the 4 reeds and allow the player to breathe and put more air into the bag, the reservoir.
One of oddest things about bagpipes is that pipers learn solo on a "practice" chanter which has no bag, no drones and little volume and then perform on the "big pipes". Band practices are very often two separate sessions - one part on practice chanters and the second on the big pipes.
The pipe chanter reed (a double cane reed bound around metal tubing) produces the sound for the melody. Getting the desired pitch involves raising or lowering the cane reed in its seat atop the chanter. There are only 9 natural notes to the bagpipe scale ie one octave plus one other ie A to A plus a low G or low G to high G plus high A). There are 8 finger holes drilled into the chanter. A "sound" hole goes right through below the lowest hole. The left- hand "pinky" and the right- hand thumb are not used in noted production although the right thumb provides strong support to the bottom hand.
Traditionally, the drone holes in the bag are cut so the bag is squeezed using the left arm and drones supported by the left shoulder. On the chanter where the melody is played the left hand is on the top section of the chanter and the right hand on the bottom section.
The chanter scale is not in regular steps as per an oscilloscope. This makes playing with other fixed pitch instruments difficult. There is also no definitive pitch for the chanter so each has to be tuned to an agreed upon pitch! Pipe bands tune constantly as the pitch of the chanter even changes as you play!
The drones (one bass and two identical tenors) must also be tuned constantly to the low A of the chanter as it changes. Humidity is a major factor which can vary greatly from indoors to outdoors further complicating the sounds produced. The drones are meant to provide a constant sound. The pitch of the drones is changed by lengthening or shortening the column of air by moving the tuning part of the drone. The two tenor drones should be tuned so as to provide the same sound.
Another major difference is that bagpipes produce a constant and uninterrupted sound. It takes some time to get them going and to stop them!!! There are no musical "rests" with bagpipes. The pitches of all sounds produced are supposed to be true and constant! In order to make a rhythm in the melody "gracenotes" must be played. They are written as 1/32 notes and do not count in the number of beats in the bar.
Bagpipe tunes use 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8 and 9/8 time signatures most commonly.
The best bagpipes are made of properly aged African Blackwood. In recent years, various synthetic drone reeds have come into usage replacing cane reeds.
Care and maintenance is very important. Bagpipes will not function well unless played regularly. Reeds dry out, the bag may not seal and stocks become loose if not used. Climate is also a long-term factor.
Usually, it takes 15-20 minutes to get them sounding right and then if they are put down and not played it takes a little more time again to get them back to the desired sound!
The often maligned sound of the bagpipe is usually produced only by poor or inexperienced players, just like any other instrument!
*** Remember: Without the drones the bagpipes wouldn't sound any better than a piano!
Bruce Topp (firstname.lastname@example.org)