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Some Piping History

The proper name for the bagpipes that I play is the great highland bagpipes, or the war pipes. Naturally, the name lets you know that the instrument originated in Scottish Highlands. Today the bagpipes are played in every part of the world, and are one of the most beloved folk instruments.
The bagpipes are said to have originated in ancient Syria, as an instrument that evolved from simple reed instruments (without a bag) that shepherds played while tending their flocks. Before the bag, the “bagpipe” was probably a collection of several wind instruments that were played separately by several individuals at once. It wasn’t until someone thought to incorporate a bag that all of these instruments could be played simultaneously by one player. That was the creation of the bagpipe.
Today, most great highland pipes have a bag, a chanter, a blowpipe, two tenor drones, and one bass drone.

Antique engraving of the Great Highland Bagpipes

Antique engraving of the Great Highland Bagpipes

Virtually every European and Mediterranean country has some form of bagpipe associated with its culture, and each style of bagpipe is unique to its culture. There are bagpipes from Estonia, Tunisia, Italy, Germany, the Balkans, Bosnia, France, Poland, Ireland and Great Britain. France has about 17 types of bagpipes, each unique to a regional or ethnic culture. Italy has the zampogna, Ireland has the Uilleann Pipes, and Great Britain has the border pipes, Northumberland smallpipes and the great highland bagpipes.
No one knows for certain, but the bagpipes are said to have been brought to Britain by the conquering Roman armies. Eventually, they made their way north to the highlands of Scotland and evolved into their present form. Since 1843, the British Sovereign has retained an official piper, bearing the title “Personal Piper to the Sovereign”[2]. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to have a piper, after hearing bagpipe music on a trip to Scotland in 1842.
The great highland bagpipes are played all over the world, thanks to the spread and influence of the vast British Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries. Where ever the influence of the British Empire stretched, there were also great highland bagpipes.

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