What are you doing to that poor
octopus that makes it shriek so?
Take a closer look. That is not an octopus at all, but the majestic Great Highland Bagpipe!
Known as the GHB for short, this is the instrument developed in Scotland and made
famous by pipe and drum bands all over the world.
How long does it take to learn to play the pipes?
As with most learned skills, much depends on how much time you devote to learning. You start by playing
the practice chanter until you learn the fingerings and some tunes. Once you’ve determined that you can
do it, you can make the move of getting your own set of bagpipes. After 12 months or so, you will probably
be accomplished enough to start playing the pipes along with the band at practice. The British Army reckons
it takes around six months of full-time training to get the basics down.
How much does a set of bagpipes cost?
Prices range widely, depending on the pipes you choose. There are some very inexpensive instruments made
in Pakistan. We recommend these only for decorative wall hangings in your rumpus room. A quality, playable
set of pipes made in Scotland from African blackwood will set you back at least $1500, but depending on the
materials and decoration you choose, it can easily cost many times as much. The great thing is, a set of pipes
will easily last a lifetime.
How do the bagpipes work?
The GHB is actually four musical instruments in one. The piper blows air into the blowstick,
which inflates the bag. There is a valve to prevent the air from escaping the way it got in.
When the piper squeezes the bag, air is forced out through reeds in the three drones, those
long pipes sticking out of the top of the bag. They sound a single note as accompaniment
to the chanter. The remainder of that pressurized air goes through the chanter, that flutelike
apparatus at the bottom of the bag. The piper uses his or her fingers to cover and uncover
holes in the chanter to play the melody.
What tartan do you wear?
Our distinctive blue kilts, with brown and red tartan pattern represent the Elliot clan.
What’s with those caps on your heads?
The caps we wear are called Glengarry bonnets, after the man who made them
popular, the chieftain of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry, whose militia regiment wore
them. These have been standard headgear for Scottish army regiments since the 1850s.
The ribbons trailing down the back are useful for guiding water down the outside of your
jacket instead of down your neck. Fun fact: that red pompom on the top is called a “toorie”.
You may notice the band wears our own custom-designed badge, representing the
Centennial State Pipes & Drums. Most bands and all Scottish military outfits proudly
display their own badges here.
Why “Centennial State”?
Colorado, after joining the Union in 1876, took the nickname “The Centennial State”, and we followed suit.
Do you have to be Scottish to play the pipes?
Not at all! The bagpipes actually have a rich history throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Many countries have their own indigenous variations on the instrument, but the Great Highland
Bagpipe is the version popularized in the British Isles. Our band features players from many
different backgrounds. All you need is a love for that ancient sound.
What’s that thing sticking out of your sock?
It’s a knife. Actually known as a sgian dubh (pronounced “SKEE-un doo”), or “black knife”.
The word dubh (black) also has the connotation of “hidden”. This could traditionally serve as defense in
case of surprise attack, but in practice was often used to cut meat during meals. Nowadays, you’ll see
a piper using it to cut a piece of hemp twine being wound around a drone stock or a piece of tuning tape
being applied to a chanter.
Is that a little purse slung around your waist?
Yes it is. Although they are handsome, kilts have the drawback of not being
provided with pockets. For that reason, we wear sporrans (pronounced
“SPOR-runs”) strung on a chain around our waists. This serves as
a receptacle to store keys, wallet, cell phone, and all the other things you’d
keep in your pockets.
How old are the bagpipes?
The first clear reference to the use of the Scottish Highland bagpipes is from a French
history, which mentions their use at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547. The basic configuration
of the GHB has changed little since then, although we now use some modern materials which are
more durable and less prone to break down. Variations of the same instrument date back to the
Roman Empire. The Roman historian Suetonius described the Emperor Nero as a bagpiper.
The chanter portion of the instrument dates back some 5,000 years.
What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
What do you mean? African or European?
And of course…
What do you wear
under the kilt?
Why, shoes and socks, of course!
Where can I find out more about piping?
Here are some links to sites we recommend: