Highlands & Lowlands

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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!

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“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