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Folklife Festival 2003 > Scotland > Crafts > Bagpipes

Scottish bagpipes are of two main kinds: Great, or Highland, pipes (in Gaelic, a Phìob or Piob Mhór) and bellows-blown pipes, of which there are several varieties. The Highland bagpipe is the better known of the two. It has a double-reed chanter, which plays the melody, and three single-reed drones. The piper blows into a blowpipe to inflate a cloth-covered bag made of leather or, more commonly these days, of synthetic material. The bag acts as a reservoir of air to give the piper an uninterrupted flow of air with which to create a continuous sound. Air from the piper's lungs travels via the blowpipe into the bag and then to the chanter -- which the piper fingers to produce the melody -- and to the three drones, which sound a continuous, fixed-pitch accompaniment.

Bagpipes are an ancient instrument and exist in many cultures. In Scotland, they have been documented for more than 600 years. In earlier times, many clan chiefs retained household pipers as well as bards (singers) and clarsach (harp) players. Some piping families were legendary, like the MacCrimmons of Skye, hereditary pipers to the chief of Clan McLeod.

In the late 18th century, pipes were incorporated into the British Army, and both the instrument and its repertoire were standardized. Pipe music, originally passed down aurally, was notated, and competitions were established to encourage "correct" playing. Today, Highland pipe bands are popular throughout the world. These bands specialize in ceòl beag ("light music") consisting of songs, dances, and marches. Pibroch (Gaelic, piobaireachd), a slow-tempo, highly ornamented style of playing often called the classical music of the bagpipe, is appreciated by a smaller number of connoisseurs.


In the Scottish Lowlands, a number of different bagpipes were played, smaller and quieter than the Highland pipes and powered by bellows pumped by the player's elbow. Both the cylindrical bore Scottish Small Pipes and the conical bore Border Pipes have three drones set in a common stock and a chanter. In centuries past, many Scottish border towns employed a town piper to play in the streets early in the morning and sound the curfew at night.

In the 20th century, Lowland pipes came close to extinction but were revived largely through the efforts of piper Hamish Moore. Since 1985 he has been manufacturing new sets of Scottish Small Pipes, Border Pipes, and more recently, Highland Pipes and Highland Reel Pipes. To date, he has produced more than 750 sets of pipes in his Dunkeld workshop, where he works with his son Fin and four co-workers.

Coming to the Festival...
Hamish Moore (Dunkeld, Perthshire)

—Moore is an esteemed maker of Highland, Scottish Small pipes, and Border pipes. As a maker and performer, he has been the key figure in the revival of the bellows-blown pipes of Scotland as well as in the rediscovery of older regional and pre-military Highland piping traditions. Although he no longer plays himself, he will come with his son and apprentice, Fin, who is an excellent piper.

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