There’s just something about bagpipes. Whether it’s the skirl of the melodies they share or the rhythmic drums that often accompany them, “the pipes” have a romance about them that is undeniable.
Scotland’s national instrument is rarely seen outside of Caledonian festivals and funeral services for fallen heroes. And that’s a shame, because this instrument has a noble and ancient history.
In and of itself, the bagpipe is a wind instrument. It consists of a leather (or synthetic leather) bag, into which air is blown through a pipe. Holding the bag under the left arm, the piper forces air into four other pipes by the pressure of the elbow.
In the Highland form, one pipe, the chanter, plays the melody. The other three pipes are called drones. Two drones emit a monotone in unison with the lowest note of the chanter and the third gives a note an octave lower.
Bagpipes are often seen with military bands, and with good reason. Just as the bugle signaled movements to the troops, so did the bagpipes in military history.
The bagpipe is thought to have come to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. The Scots embraced this haunting instrument and made it their own.
Remember the movie, “Braveheart”? The Scots put their sorrows and joys into the music of the pipes. So much so that the English banned the pipes and the wearing of plaid for more than a century.
To be a piper was to risk one’s life, literally. The pipes were viewed as a sign of rebellion and high treason. One could be hanged, drawn and quartered just for knowing how to play them. This ban lasted until Queen Victoria, who loved Scotland, lifted it in the 1800s.
Not surprisingly, it takes a long time to learn how to play this instrument. And to play it well takes practice, practice, practice.
The city of Sacramento Pipe Band was established in 1989 to give modern pipers an opportunity to practice their craft. Founded by the late Clutch Sutton and Liz Tubbs, music director, the band has some 30 playing members.
Children and adults are welcome to become a part of this nonprofit educational group. Piping and drumming instruction (remember those drums?) are available at a nominal cost to band members and beginners. Learn more at sacramentopipeband.org.
If you are an aficionado of all things Scottish and especially of the pipes, then you won’t want to miss their performance of Christmas songs from the Highlands at “Music of Many Lands” with the Folsom Symphony this Dec. 7 & 8 at the Harris Center/Three Stages. This will be a high note of the season for sure.
In addition to the city of Sacramento Pipe Band’s performance, the Folsom Symphony will perform: Guiseppe Verdi’s “Overture From La Forza del Destino,” Felix Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides,” Hector Berlioz’s “March Hongroise,” Alexander Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” the “Overture From Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss Jr., “Romanian Rhapsody No. 1” by George Enescu, the “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauss Sr., “Pizzicato Polka” by Josef Strauss, “A Christmas Festival” by Leroy Anderson and, of course, traditional sing-along carols.
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