There Are More Stories


“A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne,

And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.”

Canterbury Tales, General Prologue

The Hightlands

According to Suetonius, a Roman historian during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire, Nero played a type of pipe known as the Roman reedpipes, “with his mouth as well as his armpit.” In fact, some suggest that he played the pipes, rather than the fiddle, as Rome burned.  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales makes specific reference to the Miller being able to play the bagpipes. Early folk bagpipes found their way into paintings by Brueghel, Teniers, Jordaens and Durer.  The Irish had píob mhór, which means, in Gaelic, Great Irish War pipes.  Vincenzo Galilei, the father of Galileo, wrote that  the bagpipe “is much used by the Irish: to its sound this unconquered fierce and warlike people march their armies and encourage each other to deeds of valour.” 

Bagpipes tell the story of the world.  Bulgaria has the kaba gaida, Southern Italy, the zampogna, Turkey, the tulum, Galicia the giata, Southern India, the sruti upanga, Sweden, the säckpipa; all of which bears witness that bagpipes have roots in many traditions.  It is a global instrument that continues to gain entrance into modern music. There is a greater narrative that continues to unfold.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Robert Burns
My Heart’s in the Highlands

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.

Blàr Chùil Lodair


‘Will ye no come back again’

 Scottish lament after Charles Edward Stuart returned to France following the failure of the 1745 uprising.

Culloden Moor

Culloden Moor

Blàr Chùil Lodair, The Battle of Culloden was the final skirmish of the 1745 Jacobite Rising under the command of Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.  It was the House of Stuart against the House of Hanover for the restoration of the Stuart line to the British Throne.  Without the benefit of military experience and ignoring the advice of his commander, George Murray, Bonnie Prince Charlie chose to fight on open marshy land that fateful day of April 16, 1746. His forces consisted mostly of Scottish Highlanders, along with a few Lowland Scots and a small detachment of Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment.  The fight was quick, bloody and decisive. Charles Stuart returned to France, defeated, never to return again to Scotland.

The Highlands lost many brave men that day.  The relentless pursuit of remaining Jacabites and the Act of 1747, in reaction to the Jacobite rebellion would be equally catastrophic.  Every attempt was made to destroy the clan system of society across the Highlands, including banning the wearing of the tartan and carrying weapons.  There was an understanding that the Highland Pipes, although not specifically mentioned in the new laws, were outlawed as well.

The Clans

Music defines a society’s values and traditions; lyrics and tunes can be used as a rallying call to action.  The Highland Bagpipes endured as a testament to the resilience and courage of a people who would not forget their heritage.

Bonnie Charlie’s now awa’,
Safely owre the friendly main;
Mony a heart will break i’ twa,
Should he no’ come back again.

Will ye no come back again?
Will ye no come back again?
Better lo’ed ye canna be,
Will ye no come back again?

The Memory

The Memory

Highlands & Lowlands


The Highlands

Scotland is divided into two distinguishable historic regions, the Highlands and the Lowlands.  Beginning in the later Middle Ages, a cultural difference appeared when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout the Lowlands.  The Highlands are located north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault.  A’ Ghàidhealtachd which means “the place of the Gaels” includes the area of the Western Isles and the Highlands.  It will not come as any surprise that Scotland has embraced, over the years, two distinct types of bagpipes.

The Great Highland Pipe is more familiar than its cousin, the Lowland Pipe. It is the pipe that is used at outdoor ceremonies like the Highland Games.  The piper must blow into the pipe to fill the bag with a reserve of air, which then escapes through four separate pipes, three being the “drones” and the fourth the “chanter,” which is where the piper’s fingers play the tune.

The Chanter

The Chanter


The Drones

The Drones

The Lowland pipes are noticeably different. Rather than blowing into the pipe to fill the airbag, the piper uses his or her arms to squeeze bellows that produce the air for the bag.  While Highland pipers stand or march, Lowland pipers usually take a seat. Their pipers are generally quieter, even mellow, and are suitable for indoor events.

Whether Highland or Lowland, the pipes define and enrich the traditions and heritage of a nation.

The Return (A Piper’s Vaunting) 

Pittendrigh Macgillivrary (1856-1938)

Och hey! for the splendour of tartans!
And hey for the dirk and the targe!
The race that was hard as the Spartans
Shall return again to the charge:

Shall come back again to the heather,
Like eagles, with beak and with claws
To take and to scatter for ever
The Sasennach thieves and their laws.

Och, then, for the bonnet and feather!
The pipe and its vaunting clear:
Och, then, for the glens and the heather!
And all that the Gael holds dear.

I Want A Piper, Too!


“We have heard nothing but bagpipes since we have been in the beautiful Highlands and I have become so fond of it that I mean to have a Piper, who can if you like it, pipe every night at Frogmore.”

Queen Victoria, in a letter to her mother.

Braemar Gathering. Scotland

Braemar Gathering. Scotland

The tradition of The Queen’s Piper dates back to Queen Victoria.  In 1842, Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert traveled to the Scottish Highlands.  It was her first visit; and like all those who see the Highlands for the first time, she was overwhelmed with the grandeur of the northern countryside.  The Royal Couple were the guests of the Marquess of Breadablane at Taymouth Castle which is located north-east of the village of Kenmore, Perth and Kinross.   The Marquess happened to have her own personal bagpiper, who was pleased to play for Queen Victoria.  From that moment on, Queen Victoria was determined to have one for her household.

One year later, in 1843, Angus MacKay became the first personal Piper to Queen Victoria.  Piper MacKay was a famed composer of pipe music who had published a volume of reels and strathspeys and a collection of piobaireachd music.  Piobaireachd is an art music classical genre associated with the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Victoria wasted no time in directing Piper MacKay in his duties. The bagpipes were heard every day after breakfast, at balls and other special events.   Piper MacKay was there at the formation of a cairn to honour Queen Victoria’s acquisition of Balmoral Estate in 1852.   It was the event of the season.  Queen Victoria noted that, while the cairn was being constructed, “some merry reels were danced on a stone opposite”.

Queen Victoria died in 1901.  At her funeral two personal pipers were present in the first stage of the procession.  Queen Victoria’s desire for the music of the bagpipes has become a tradition for successive monarchs of the British throne.

In 2008, my family traveled to Scotland.  A highlight was to attend the Braemar Gathering, when The Queen made a personal appearance.  Now, five years later, her son, HRH Prince Andrew attended the 150th annual Victoria Highland Games.  Queen Victoria seemed to understand that the world needed the Highland Bagpipes.

But there is much more to the bagpipe story…


Caber Tossing, Braemar Gathering

Caber Tossing, Braemar Gathering

The Pipes are Calling


“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”

Queen Victoria

Highland Games

Today, Canadians celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday.   Her reign brought the British Empire into a new world order, during a time of great change and uncertainty.   Born on May 24, 1819, she came to the throne after the death of her uncle, King William IV, in 1837. As a young woman ascending to the throne, her future husband described her “as one whose extreme obstinacy was constantly at war with her good nature.”

The death of Queen Victoria on January 22, 1901, ended an era in which most of her British subjects knew no other monarch. Her 63-year reign, the longest in British history, saw the growth of an empire on which the sun never set. Victoria restored dignity to the English monarchy and ensured its survival as a ceremonial political institution. Nine children and 26 of her 34 grandchildren who survived childhood, married into royal and noble families across the Europe.  She was truly the “grandmother of Europe.”

We celebrated this auspicious occasion by attending the 150th Annual Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival.  Queen Victoria’s descendent, His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, the Duke of York presided over the opening, closing and awards ceremonies.  Central to the celebration was the pipes and drums.  When the mass band played, “Amazing Grace,” I knew that I wanted to explore the history of the bagpipes.  And what a history it is!  Even now, the position of the Queen’s Piper is one of the most prestigious assignments.

Every weekday for fifteen minutes starting precisely 9:00am, The Queen’s Piper plays the pipes directly under The Queen’s window when she is in residence at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, The Palace of Holyroodhouse or Balmoral Castle. And it all started with Queen Victoria.

The pipes are calling…