The Bagpipe Gives us Reasons to be Cheerful as we Contemplate a New Year

For piping the year 2020 has not been all bad. The degree to which you concur will depend on the degree to which you view what we do as art or sport. If your sole driving force is to use the great Highland bagpipe to beat the you-know-what out of the next guy then the past 12 months have been a disaster. No battlefield around on which you can do your bloody best.

But if you view our musical pursuit more as one of art, then the past year has provided you with an opportunity to consider once more our music divested of all rancour and contumely, to play for playing’s sake.

By The Editor

In its purist form, pipe music is great music played on a great instrument. It will survive because of this, though the doomsayers have been hard at it. They write and mumble about existential threats to what we do yet are only at best 20% right. There may be a threat to competition but not to the music or its medium.

Once there were bagpipes throughout the world; most have gone. Ours prevailed for two reasons. First it was made to fit the human form. Bag under the arm, drones on the shoulder, blowstick bumping gums, it becomes part of us, a living, breathing part of us. If, as someone said, God shaped the horse for man to ride, the great Highland bagpipe is its musical equivalent.

Second, we wrote the music that brought out the best in the pipe. No other form of the instrument has the variety of compositions that we have. For only nine notes we have an incredible melodic storehouse.

Fuse together these facts and we have the indestructable, symbiotic fundament on which our tradition is grounded. It will survive whatever is thrown at it because of this.

Well tuned and crisply fingered it is a pleasure giver in its own right, even if we discount the medals we can garner by being good at it.

If anything, 2020 has allowed us to re-calibrate where we stand, how we view our instrument. Some of us have become too ensnared by competition.

We should not learn piobaireachd for the sole reason of winning a Gold Medal though many have. No, the approach must be one of study, of learning and to use that learning to perform on the only platform we have: the competition board.

If the prizes come along, well and fine, but the greater goal is knowledge for its own sake. It is the same for our ceòl beag. The music will out. This is what strikes at the core self. We do not remember Iain Morrison for his medals (though he got many), more for the brilliance of his expression and technique.

It is the same for bands such as Field Marshal, Muirhead and Sons, Strathclyde Police and others. Yes they won many prizes, but it is the manner of the winning that has lasted long after the shouting and cheering has faded. Through dedication to music they entered into the folk memory and became the stuff of legend.

So when battle resumes, as it may do next summer, keep things in perspective. Look well to your pipe; it is not a weapon of war. Nurture it and its music and the friends it has given you – and who we miss so much.

3 thoughts on “The Bagpipe Gives us Reasons to be Cheerful as we Contemplate a New Year

  1. Thanks, Rob, for making this observation and stating it so eloquently. “War or peace, it’s all the same to me” but piping has always given me a reason to enjoy life no matter the circumstances.

  2. Agree with Ian Forbes. Thanks Robert. A great thing, Piping Press. And a great column. It is the sound of the pipes and the music. Competition is good. I enjoy it and am glad for it because it drives me to work harder at piping. Yeah, I want to win like the next guy, but my real aim is to beat myself–to become a better piper. To play well. Playing well is the reward. There is joy in playing, making music, even alone and away. Of course, we have missed the live fellowship this year and the joy of playing (and competing) together; here’s hoping by mid-2021 we can gather again. But in the end, as Robert says, the GHB endures. It is uniquely suited to play “tunes of glory” that stir one to the core. A fitting column to end 2020.

  3. A huge thanks again to Robert at Piping Press, and all of the numerous contributors for keeping us informed, entertained and educated on all matters piping and drumming during this dreadful pandemic. With 2 vaccines now approved, we have the prospect of life returning to semi-normal next year. My great hope is that all piping-related organisations are already formulating plans and options for a phased resumption of activities sometime during 2021. Happy New Year to everyone!

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