Ceòl Mór – The Great Music

The Highlands

The first time I heard Piobaireachd, I recognized immediately why it is considered ceòl mór, or “great music,” as compared to the popular Scottish music of dances, reels, marches and strathspeys, which are called “little music” or  ceòl beag. I was captivated by the measured, stately flow of music that offered subtle variations in note duration and tempo.

Piobaireachd is played on the Highland bagpipes by a solo piper.  One of the most complex and difficult genres in the piping repertoire, it has a meditative solemnity that is suitable for profound occasions. It is used to draw members of the clans together at gatherings, to recall an event in history, or to lament the passing of a loved one.

Piobaireachd comes from the heart of the Highlands, the origins of which are shrouded in legend dating back to the fifteen hundreds.  It is said that it was the MacCrimmon family of pipers from the Isle of Skye, who gave us the highly developed tunes.   You will recall that Queen Victoria’s piper Angus MacKay was the famed composer of pipe music that brought together a collection of Piobaireachd music.   After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Piobaireachd continued to be played but there was a time that it fell into decline.  Even so, there has been a modern revival and renewed interest.  Music finds a way to survive.

This is the Lament for Kinlochmoidart, one of my favourite Piobaireachd tunes. Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart was a respected poet and soldier who fought on the Jacobite side.   These are the words (translated from Gaelic) that expresses the thoughts of his clan on his passing.

The sun is clouded. The hills are shrouded;
The sea is silent, it ends its roar.
The streams are crying; winds are sighing,
Our Moidart hero returns no more.

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

24 thoughts on “Ceòl Mór – The Great Music

  1. Most stuff that goes around in the big big world, I know of them through my passion for movies. Bagpipe music was a surprise coincidence and a beautiful memory forever since. I noticed Alec Guinness in The Lawrence of Arabia as Prince Feisal and I was in awe of his performance. Back to back I sourced all his movies, is when I came across Tunes of Glory. I hope…someday….


    1. Thank you, Arjun! I did not know about this movie!!! That is the beauty of blogging…the knowledge sharing is extraordinary. I have already located the movie and will be watching it this week. Sir Alec Guinness is always magnificent. I agree – movies open the doors to what is going on in the world around us. I fell in love with Shakespeare after watching “The Taming of the Shrew” with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.


    1. Every time I hear the laments, I feel history unfolding. Thank you for your visit. I marvel at how you are able to keep in touch when you are on the move!! 🙂


  2. We/I am listening to a recording and a performance. And that is more than I thought I would ever be doing. I suppose most people hear the bagpipes while at a get together at a tourist thingy. Sitting in an audience. The sound is solemn and moving. You feel mesmerized somehow.

    What I am trying to say is: (yes I am getting there lol )
    I wonder what the feeling would have been like to hear it in the real instant of clan calling. It would have been important. You just would not have remarked: How nice.
    It would be part of who you were. 🙂

    Rebecca, you always seem to figure out what I mean. lol


    1. I know exactly what you mean! Vancouver has a Piobaireachd Society that meets ever 4 -5 months. They are very serious in persevering the spirit and intent of this musical genre. It is a night where bagpipers only play Piobaireachd. The first time I went, I was so moved by the music. People listened intently, some closing their eyes. And it does put me in a meditative state. Each tune has a history behind it which makes the music even more meaningful. For example ‘The Lament for the Children” is about a man who lost seven of eight sons in the course of a year to an unknown scourge. It seems that music is a way to grieve and heal. Thank you so much for your comments!


  3. Indeed great music…this music is so relaxing and the video is so beautiful showing us the beautiful vistas in Scotland

    a friend always said this quote to me…
    “Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion.”
    -Scottish Proverb


    1. One thing about bagpipes – you can always count on hearing them from miles away. I love that quote!!! Have added it to my list…. Thank you!!


    1. I do love piobaireachd. The music is rich in history; I confess I have not yet begun to understand the nuances. And that makes it even more exciting.


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