Bagpipes win a degree of respect

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Best known for terrifying cats and making grown men weep, bagpipers are calling for a different kind of tune. The most maligned instrument in history is demanding respect. Scotland's 15,000 players will see the launch of the world's first BA in the Bagpipes (hons) next week.

Best known for terrifying cats and making grown men weep, bagpipers are calling for a different kind of tune. The most maligned instrument in history is demanding respect. Scotland's 15,000 players will see the launch of the world's first BA in the Bagpipes (hons) next week.

The pipes have one of the oldest musical traditions in the world and a huge repertoire, but enthusiasts have long felt excluded by the classical establishment.

Now the Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is promising to drag the bagpipes off the parade ground and into the conservatory, said Rita McAllister, its director of music.

"This is a historic step forward for Scotland's national instrument," Dr McAllister said. "We want to treat piping with the same professionalism that we do violinists. We have a degree in every other branch of music but, at the moment, if you're a piper, you have nothing. There's no doubt there's a demand for it."

Candidates for the BA (Scottish Music - Piping) will learn about the long and varied history of their instrument, which is well documented in Scotland since the 14th century. The course will cover the variants played in Galicia, Italy and Brittany as well as the versions from Ireland and Northumberland.

Although the Highland Bagpipe is, as Dr McAllister admits, "not an indoor instrument", a range of smaller pipes from Scotland are beginning to feature more often in folk bands and other small ensembles.

Bagpipes are by no means cheap - a good set can cost £4,000 - but they have grown in popularity to the extent that there is now a shortage of school teachers capable of giving piping lessons. The academy particularly hopes that some of its graduates will go on to work in the classroom.

Opposition to the bagpipes has been widespread and cruel: Alfred Hitchcock complained they sounded like "an indignant, asthmatic pig". But the Glasgow-based Piping Centre, which will handle the practical side of the course, blames low levels of skill and poor technique among rogue performers.

Roddy MacLeod, the centre's director of piping, said: "Most people have a positive attitude towards them when they're played well." No longer will it be said that a true gent is one who knows how to play the bagpipes, yet refrains.

Comments