isle of skye2

Later, during the Medieval period, most Europeans started to prefer being indoors where loud musical instruments were not suitable. It was during this time that the big pipes were replaced by a number of quieter more gentle sounding instruments.

However, during this time, there was a particular nation with whom the big pipes remained popular and for them, it became a national instrument. This was in the Highlands of Scotland. Here, where the older ways of life persisted and the majority of activities were still taking place out of doors the louder volume of the pipes was fully appreciated.

A brief history of the instrument would describe the pipes as one of the oldest instruments in existence. One of the earliest sets of pipes were to be found in Panapolis in Egypt and dated back to 1500 B.C. The only older instruments to be found within a Celtic context are the Bodhran (drum), clarsach (harp) and feadan (whistle or flute), , the latter being perhaps a forerunner to the pipes. The actual country of origin of the pipes is not known, its popularity being so widespread, reaching every region of the world. This was probably due to the Roman empire and its many conquests, for the Roman infantry was known to have pipers within its ranks

map of scotland

If you mention bagpipes and Scotland, another name springs to mind - the MacCrimmons of Skye. They were hereditary pipers to the clan MacLeod and their contribution to the piping world in many ways helped to develop the evolution of the instrument itself, particularly with regard to the refinement of the music of the pipes.

The big music of the pipes, known as piobaireachd, was developed to an amazing standard by this family, and some of their masterpieces seem immortal. One of the finest is called Cumha na Cloinne or the Lament for the children, composed by Padraig Mor MacCrimmon who lived in the 17th century. Padraig Mor had eight fine sons but an outbreak of smallpox claimed all of his sons but one. He is said to have composed that timeless piobaireachd while listening to the mournfull cries of his wife.

There is a common set of stages played for a piece to be classed as piobaireachd. The first stage is called the ground or Urlar, this stage establishes a theme or 'air' of the tune. It is a slow melody which is ornamented by gracenotes. The next stage is known as Siubhal, it transforms the melody of the Urlar into a regular rhythmic figure. The third stage, the Taorluath, with its intricate patterns is imposed on this. This in turn leads to the final and most complex section, the Crunluath, which places on top of the Taorluath an additional three notes to every bar of the music. The difference is almost indiscernible to the non piping ear, yet it adds embellishment to the classical music of the pipes.

There are many different types of piobaireachd, laying to rest the myth that they are all laments. There are marches, satires, gatherings, rowing tunes (to keep rowers of a galley together) or even battle pieces to celebrate famous victories or incite warriors prior to battle.

shiloute piper
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