Congratulations Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band - winners of the 2015 World Pipe Band Championships.

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  • 78th Fraser Highlanders
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  • Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band
  • Simon Fraser University Pipe Band
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  • Vale of Atholl

Scottish Bagpipes

A brief History

Throughout the ancient world shepherds played pipes and like modern attitudes towards ceremony and celebration it is likely that pipe music played an important part in Scotland's prehistoric society with pipes being used as instruments to evoke atmosphere. Amusing speculations suggest that Roman legions in AD 84 introduced pipes to Scotland by deploying them to confront Caledonii tribesmen led by Calgacus at the battle of Mons Graupius. Whatever, it's not until medieval times that actual documentary evidence of piping in Scotland appears on the historical record.

The bagpipe was popular in Asia and Europe and there are also allusions to it in the Scottish Lowlands and in England. Writing in the 12th century, Gerald of Wales stated that the Highlander played on the 'clarsach (harp)' and the 'tympanum' and the 'chorus,' the latter probably a droneless bagpipe with chanter and a simple blow stick. The chanter is the ancient foundation of the bagpipe with drones only added in the 13th-14th centuries to provide a steady harmonic, but it is only relatively recently in the 19th century that pipes like the great Highland bagpipe with its three drones adopted their familiar form.

The Islands and Highlands during the period 12th-16th century were ruled by the Lords of the Isles, who leaned towards Celtic/ Nordic traditions rather than Anglo Norman feudalism. Musicians such as a harper or piper were traditional officers at the Lordships court, and it was customary for a member of such a family; like MacArthur of Islay, to hold a grant of land in virtue of their hereditary office of piper. The Scottish court readily adopted many Celtic customs and the importance of pipes can be seen in their records. In the 14th century pipers were in the pay of Robert the Bruce's son King David II and in the 15th century King James I of Scotland (1394-1437) was considered a piper of ability. Also, James IV's reign (1488-1513) shows evidence of patronage for pipers. Today Queen Elizabeth II retains a personal piper whose refrain awakens her each morning.

Early Scottish music history belongs to the Clarsach which among other things was used to accompany bardic recitations; such as inciting warriors to battle. It's not surprising that the mobility of pipes and their stirring volume brought about a change in the preferred instrument of chiefs during the 16-17th century period of clan development. References to bagpipes and pipers mostly belong to this period when change in warfare brought about change of battle instrument. Stimulating and rallying large bodies of clansmen required a sound capable of rousing an army and spreading terror to the enemy. The harp declined in favour of bagpipe and a new type of music and style of composition, Piobaireachd.

Many of the tunes seem to be older than the classical period of Piobaireachd (Pibroch) but it is generally accepted that this form of musical composition appeared in the 16th c and has been adhered to ever since. This Highland music was fostered by some leading families, notably the MacLeods of Dunvegan, Skye. Masters of Piobaireachd were their hereditary pipers the MacCrimmons, who founded a famous piping school at Boreraig in Vaternish, Skye in the 16th century that schooled a dynasty of great pipers such as Donald Mor MacCrimmon, circa 1570 and Patrick Mor MacCrimmon, circa 1595.

Ceol Mor (Great Music) is a term for Piobaireachd. Although individual tunes are different from one another they conform to rules of composition and follow a definite plan. Over 300 tunes survive that are still performed, consisting of marches and battle-tunes, salutes, gatherings and laments mostly from the period 1600 -1760. The old schools of piping used 'Canntaireachd', a syllabic notation to preserve their music and to pass it on to their pupils, and it has been consistently used by those acquainted with it. The melody notes in Canntaireachd are represented by vowels having a specific pitch meaning, and consonants for the grace notes. Pipe teaching could be done entirely by Canntaireachd and most pipers still use a loose form to describe the notes of their music or to sing tunes. Canntaireachd tradition survives in Gaelic, particularly with Ceol Beg or light music.

Bagpipes had been documented as war instruments since the 16th century. Following the battle of Culloden in 1746 the Hanovarians considerd that Highland pipers were guilty of association with Jacobites and consequently were seriously punished. One example, James Reid, a Jacobite prisoner at Carlisle in 1746, pleaded that as a piper he was not an active combatant, but never the less he was condemned because no Highland regiment marched without a piper and in the eyes of the law bagpipes were instruments of war.

Since then bagpipes have had strong military associations in the British Army where the office of Pipe Major is a position of honour. At the worlds battlefields bagpipes have led many brave soldiers to fight, the pipers duty to stand on the battlefield playing stirring tunes to rouse his comrades out of trenches and into battle. The effect on troops who were often cold, frightened and demoralised was miraculous. Their great value in action is recognised by whole battalions but not surprisingly, pipers were easy targets and often the first to fall. Over 1,000 pipers fell during WW1 and it is impossible to understand the fear these men must have faced as they picked up their pipes knowing that they were easy targets. Yet these very brave men fought that fear and did what was expected of them in a hazardous wartime job. From America's 18th c Wars of Independence through to the 21st c Middle East wars, the stirring sound of the Scottish bagpipe is synonymous with strength, courage and heroism for which Scots have been renowned worldwide.


  • Chris Armstrong
  • Calum Beaton
  • Martyn Bennett
  • Rory Campbell
  • Stuart Cassells
  • Hugh Cheape
  • PM Brian Donaldson
  • Gordon Duncan
  • Bruce Gandy
  • Alisdair Gillies
  • Annie Grace
  • Alex Green
  • Murray Henderson
  • Margaret Houlihan
  • Ali Hutton
  • Carol Anne Kennedy
  • Jack Lee
  • Stuart Liddell
  • Hugh MacCallum
  • Angus MacColl
  • Donald Ban MacCrimmon
  • Donald Mor MacCrimmon
  • Patrick Mor MacCrimmon
  • Angus MacDonald
  • Iain MacDonald
  • Bruce MacGregor
  • Mary MacGregor
  • Angus MacKay
  • Angus MacKenzie
  • Norman MacLean
  • PM Donald MacLeod
  • Roddy MacLeod
  • Donald MacPherson
  • Gordon MacKenzie
  • John Ban MacKenzie
  • Angus J MacLellan
  • John MacLellan
  • George S MacLennan
  • PM John MacLeod
  • Willie McCallum
  • Ross McCrindle
  • Allan McDonald
  • Ian McFadzen
  • Simon McKerrill
  • Robert Meller
  • Freddie Morrison
  • Iain Morrison
  • Hamish Moore
  • Jim Motherwell
  • Dougie Pincock
  • Calum Piobair
  • Steven Small
  • Iain Speirs
  • Gordon Walker
  • Gary West

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