Music Information

The Bagpipe and Its History

You may have heard that bagpipes are a Scottish invention; you may have heard that they are an Irish invention. The truth (of course) is neither one. The bagpipe was invented in ancient Samaria, in Israel. The Bible mentions the instrument in the book of Daniel chapter 3, where it is listed as one of the instruments use to call the people to worship a statue. This event takes place in ancient Iraq, which was then part of the Babylonian empire.

Many other times in history the instrument has been mentioned and concluding from this evidence we can say that the instrument must have been invented in ancient Samaria. From there migrating tribes of peoples took it to different parts of Europe, India and northern Africa. Some 200 years ago the instrument was very popular throughout Europe. "So, what happened?", you may say.

Well, the answer is really in the way the instrument is tuned, as well as the attitude of the ruling class in Europe, 150 years ago. It was decided that this instrument, with it's droning sound was a "poor man's instrument" and should have no part in modern music. As a result, the instrument was forbidden in almost all of Europe, except for a few outposts such as Scotland and Bulgaria. The bagpipe in its many forms, as of today still has retained its natural tuning.

The melody pipe or chanter has to tune in with the drone, therefore, it is hard to play together with other "tempered tuned" instruments. The key cannot be changed, also on account of this droning.

However, modern music, even though sophisticated, has lost a very important ingredient of music, namely the rich overtones.

Those rich tones that you can hear in a well-tuned bagpipe can only be heard when the notes are exactly tuned. This is only the case in bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies (a similar instrument that operates with strings instead of pipes) and in choral works.

However recently the bagpipe has been revived in modern music and there are now world wide many people who play the instrument.

There also are now many makers of the "forgotten" bagpipes, such as the Flemish and the Swedish bagpipes.

This modern revival of the instrument has been inspired by painters such as Pieter Brueghel, who painted the instrument as it was played in the 1600's. This revival is still going on today and pipers and pipe makers are organizing festivals and concerts and meet regularly to share ideas and discoveries.

Duco Sminia, Bagpipe maker.

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