Bagpipes are thought to have been used in ancient Egypt.
The bagpipe was the instrument of the Roman infantry while the
trumpet was used by the cavalry.
Bagpipes existed in many forms in many places around the world.
In each country the basic instrument was the same, a bag with
a chanter and one or more drones. Some of these were mouth blown
while others used a bellows attachment to supply the air. The
bag provided a sustained tone while the musician took a breath
and allowed several tones to be played at once.
The origins of the pipes in Scotland is uncertain. Some say it
was a Roman import. Others believe that the instrument came from
Ireland as the result of colonization. Another theory is that
they were developed there independently. Historians can only speculate
on the origins of the Scottish clans' piob mhor, or great Highland
bagpipe, but the Highlanders were the ones to develop the instrument
to its fullest extent and make it, both in peace and war, their
The original pipes in Scotland probably had, at the most, a single
drone. The second drone was added to the pipes in the mid to late
1500s. The first written mention of the "Great Pipes"
was in 1623 when a piper from Perth was prosecuted for playing
on the Sabbath. The third drone, or the great drone, came into
use early in the 1700s.
In the Lowlands of Scotland, pipers occupied well-defined positions
as town pipers, performers for weddings, feasts and fairs. There
was no recorded "master piper" nor were there any pipe
schools. Lowland pipers played songs and dance music, as was expected
by their audience. Over the mountains and glens, however, Highland
pipers were strongly influenced by their background of the Celtic
legends and the wild nature of the Highlands. The Highland piper
occupied a high and honored position within the Clan system. To
be a piper was sufficient and, if he could play well, nothing
else would be asked of him.
As bagpipe use faded throughout most of Europe, a new form of
music was starting in the Highlands. Beginning with Iain Odhar,
who lived in the mid-1500s, the MacCrimmon family was responsible
for elevating Highland pipe music to a new level, according to
historians. This music is called piobaireachd (pronounced piobroch).
This classical music is an art form which can compare to the music
of any other country and most of it was composed 100 years before
the piano and without written notation.
Clan pipers titles were mostly hereditary and held in much esteem.
The best known were the MacCrimmons, pipers to MacLeod of Dunvegan;
the MacAuthurs, pipers to MacDonald of the Isles; the MacKays,
pipers to the MacKenzie; the Rankins, pipers to MacLearn of Duart.
As a musical instrument of war, the Great Pipes of the Highlands
were without equal, according to historians. The shrill and
penetrating notes worked well in the roar and din of battle
and pipes could be heard at distances up to 10 miles. Because
of the importance of the bagpipes to any Highland army, they
were classified as an instrument of war by the Loyalist government
during the Highland uprising in the 1700s. After the defeat
of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, kilts and bagpipes were outlawed,
the pipes being classified as instruments of war.
To Clans and Tartan