Skirl of the bagpipes is just a load of hot air

Share

Good news for music lovers - playing the bagpipes is bad for your health. At least it is according to Dr Robert Sataloff, director of the Arts Medical Centre in Philadelphia, and he should know.

Good news for music lovers - playing the bagpipes is bad for your health. At least it is according to Dr Robert Sataloff, director of the Arts Medical Centre in Philadelphia, and he should know.

Traditionally, he points out, the pipes are made from a sheepskin bag, which is coated with a treacle-like substance. This acts as a perfect culture for fungi, whose spores can be breathed in by the piper, creating potentially fatal lung and brain disease. I would have thought that it was brain disease that led to playing the bagpipes in the first place, but no.

"Bagpipers' disease," says Dr Sataloff, "is a little- known problem within the medical profession." This may be due to the fact that it doesn't exist. Enter Robert Wallace, principal of Glasgow's College of Piping. "I have been playing for 40 years," he says, as though this were something to be proud of. "Pipers are renowned for their longevity", he adds, a statement which it is hard not to perceive as some sort of threat. "Furthermore," he insists, "playing the bagpipes helps people keep fit." Damn.

A frequent visitor to Scotland, I have heard the romantic skirl of the bagpipes many times. Give me a nine-year-old practising the recorder any day. I mean, which would you prefer? Some hairy, red-kneed bloke producing the sound of a hundred cats being strangled, or a fingernail scraping a blackboard? Given the choice, I'll be in the classroom with my arms folded and my back straight.

I've sat through some bad music in my time. Accordionists, trad jazz played by middle-aged drunks, dreadful thumping stuff coming out of car windows (why is it always the people with the worst taste in music who play it the loudest?). But for teeth-grindingly awful, nerve-jarring noise, nothing beats the bagpipes.

I wouldn't mind if they could carry a tune. It doesn't matter which melodic air the bagpipe player blows into his instrument, what emerges still always sounds like "Amazing Grace".

Traditionally, of course, the Scots were preceded into battle by the sound of bagpipes. This may explain many of the massacres they have had to endure. Nothing could sharpen the enemy's resolve to kill, hurt and maim than the sound of "Scotland the Brave" advancing towards them. It is the musical equivalent of, "Do you want to step outside and say that?"

It's hard to pinpoint what it is in the Scottish character that leads to the need to inflict bagpipe music on the rest of us. Their Celtic cousins, the Irish, consume just as much whiskey as the Scots, but even they don't get so drink-befuddled that they think coating a sheepskin bag in treacle and blowing into it is a good idea. The origins of the instrument remain shrouded in mystery. No wonder.

Given that potentially fatal lung or brain disease is no deterrent, my hopes lie with the young. You won't find many 14-year-olds standing in front of their bedroom mirror playing the air bagpipes.

There's no Jimi Hendrix of the bagpipe world to act as a role model. Which, in a way, is a shame. Picture the poor, helpless parent whose rebellious offspring threaten to form a bagpipe band and practise in the spare bedroom. "We're opening with 'Anarchy In The UK'," they say. "Followed by 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Smoke On The Water'. Now, what do you want to do? Listen to the rehearsal or buy me a car?" My theory is the keys to the Volvo will be on the kitchen table before you can say deep-fried Mars bar.

I'm not going to be the one to say that Scottish culture is a contradiction in terms. I love oatmeal, haggis and Carol Smillie. Irn Bru is wonderful. But the classic definition of a brilliant musician is someone who can play the bagpipes but doesn't. And if they do, well, you take the high road and I'll stay at home.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...