(dari tugas akhir presentasi Local Culture di Edinburgh, hihi, daripada dibuang sayang, mending masukin ke Blog. Siapa tau ada yang pengen tau tentang BagPipe-nya Scotland. Selamat baca..)  ^^

As we all know, the great highland bagpipe is the Scotland’s national musical instrument. It holds a significance role, together with tartan, kilt and whisky in Scotland’s symbol. But why?and is it true that the bagpipe was originally ‘born’ in Scotland?


The earliest versions of Scottish music are Gaelic singing and harp playing. The harp (clarsach) was the former national instrument and had been taken over by the Highland bagpipes by the 15th century (Wikipedia, 2009). There are separations between music of Scottish Highland and Lowland. Highland music seems to have differed considerably from music in Lowlands; the bagpipe-playing achieved greater sophistication and the folk-songs had Gaelic words (Johnson, 1972).


Bagpipe Anatomy

A bagpipe consists of 3 main parts:

BAGS: to maintain the air and to avoid the pause when the piper takes a breath.

CHANTER:  to produce the melodies

The drones: to produce the harmony and to increase the volume


Actually, the 1st form of bagpipes was not found in Scotland, but in Egypt  by 2500 B.C, the name is shawm. In the past, pipes were used as the instrument of war in Europe since they produce aggressive sound. In Scotland, bagpipes settled in Highland in about 1400. The 1st version only had single drone. In sixteenth century, they added the second drone and later, the three drone bagpipes become the version of nowadays great highland bagpipes. This shows that the bagpipes evolved in Scotland.


1. Lowland Pipers

Lowland pipers are town pipers, they worked for a town. But, in the Reformation era, the Calvinist banned the musical instruments playing because it is considered as a sin, so that the pipers ran to the Highland to be able to play their bagpipes freely

2.  Highland Pipers

The highland clans maintained the piping tradition for over the centuries. The professional pipers are owned to the chieftain of clan. The pipers awakened the clan every morning, play in special occasion and play gathering tunes for clan meeting. In 1500s, bagpipe has the same popularity as harp, but in 1600 the harps were no longer famous so that the Highland elevated bagpipes as their choice of favorite musical instrument (Celtic Instruments, 2005).

Clan pipers’ title held much esteem and highly respected. Some of the most popular are (Hermansson, 2008):

–       MacCrimmons, pipers to MacLeod of Dunvegan

–       MacAuthurs, pipers to MacDonald of the Isles

–       MacKays, pipers to the MacKenzie

–       Rankins, pipers to MacLearn of Duart

In 1500, the Highland bagpipes originated in Gaelic clan society in Western Highland. Even though the clan pipers were ‘servants’ to their sponsor, they were considered as an important part for the political power and warfare of the clans’ chief. Their role was to entertain their clan chief at home or abroad, also included military service (Collinson, 1975). By the end of 15th century, a piper was no longer serve a lord or clan chief, but to a town (Baines, 1979).


There was a disastrous rebellion in 1745 by almost all of Highland chiefs (Kay, 1998). The government assaults the economic, political and social structure of the Highland since they are considered to be dangerous. Every tie between clan and chief was diminished by the government to make the Highland become more likely as Lowland.

Facts: The clans always went to the battle with bagpipes. After Prince Charles Edward Stuart lost the battle to British at 1746, the Act of Parliament in 1747 consider the bagpipes as the instrument of war/weapon (Myles, 1996). Therefore, the bagpipe was banned and also kilt, tartan, swords and any kinds related to Scotland.

Although the bagpipes almost died in Britain, in Isle of Skye there was piper family; MacCrimmons who still creatively composed for the Highland bagpipe repertoire – Piobaireachd. The Disarming Act in 1782 brought the bagpipes back to community, but as a social instrument.

How about bagpipes in Scotland nowadays?

The pipers now can be hired for services… for example, wedding, events or festivals. There is also pipe band competition, that consist pipers and drummers.


Well, I’ve discussed about bagpipes in Scotland..Now we’ll move on to the view in music and ethnicity.


Stokes (1997) stated that music can construct the ‘place’, relocation of identities and boundaries. Ethnomusicologists start to do an approach based on the idea that music has relation to social boundaries. Ethnicity is such as classification of social identities. Music uses to maintain their distinction by showing its authenticity. Styles of music can symbolize the national identities, by the national composers, national musical instrument or national songs.


My country, Indonesia, has many ethnics and cultures. Each province (from total 33 provinces in 17,000 islands) has its own musical instruments (as well as its own costumes, ethnics, languages, traditional houses, food, dances). Indeed, this condition builds a strong relation between ethnic and musical instrument. Musical instruments from one province to another province can be very different, they are rarely found outside the province and it affects its own traditional songs, too. Usually, only people from those ethnic who can play their traditional musical instrument. They learn to play it because they proud of their ethnicity and need to show their ‘sense of belonging’ to their musical instruments, to make them different from other ethnics.

Some musical instruments in Indonesia: for Central Java ethnics, the famous Gamelan Orchestra which consists of musical instruments made from steel and woods, and have pentatonic scales (but different pentatonic notes from Celtic/Gaelic, it is 1 3 4 5 7). Bali also has its own gamelan, Baliness Gamelan, which has very different characteristic, forms and sounds from Javanesse Gamelan Orchestra. In Manado: Kolintang: like an ensemble of instrument like Glockenspile but made from woods or in West Sumatera that has Talempong and Saluang (evolution of pipe), and many more.

Because of wide variations in ethnic musical instruments in Indonesia, it is hard to choose for one national instrument. Therefore, the national instrument is not symbolizing the Indonesian characteristic, it is only chosen by the popularity and its well preservation. The national instrument of Indonesia is Angklung which comes from West Java, made from bamboo and have to be played in group to produce harmony. 

Music is unusually stable in term of social change. When there are some communities join into one’s region, the culture contact happens and the music from ‘outside world’ is absorbed to local music. This case also happened in Scotland, as a part of Celtic music influences. Music in classes can be described as subculture which borrows the music style from the dominant culture.


Celtic deals with: area of Celtic activity (language, music, politic) and popular activities in Celtic area (Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Cornwall). The local residents who speak Celtic language often do not know much about Celtic music, they have the same taste as British or French populations (Chapman, 1978).

Scottish Gaelic retains their musical habits; such as Gaelic choirs, Gaelic songs in Ceilidh and ‘national Mod’ (local choirs competition). Celtic ethnicities usually are defined by their language which is difficult to be learned and its number declines as mother tongues.

Why the Celts created? (In musical views):

  1. Celts play the pipes; we (the English, the French) do not” (Chapman, 1978: 37). Celtic music in Ireland and Brittany has adopted the three-drone bagpipe, which is the modern Scottish invention. The bagpipes or Piob have become an important part of the culture of the places where Celtic people have settled.
  2. In the early centuries, bagpipes were used as popular entertainment. But, by the end of 18th century, the bagpipes in Northern Britain had almost died. This condition also happened to the harp which had disappeared from Wales and Scotland, but Ireland had retained the harp music (they ‘ignored’ bagpipes’).
  3. The a cappella of traditional Celtic music use pentatonic musical scale. The Gaelic songs also use this beautiful pentatonic tunes in their vocal and instrument music.



Comparing to other countries, they also have their own bagpipes in different versions (Wikipedia, 2009). For example, they are found in Europe (Swiss, Netherland, France, Finland, Poland, Balkans, Italy, Greece), Southwest Asia (Iran, Anatolia), and North Africa (Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria).

Swedish Bagpipe

However, none of them use bagpipe as their national instrument. Many bagpipes from all around the world have been evolved but not has the same nobility as the Highland Bagpipes (Ipswich, 2008).


Cheape (2007: 16) describes Donald MacDonald (1819) comments; The bagpipe was the ‘only national instrument in Europe’”.  According to him, in the 19th century, the Scottish has a perspective that, “Bag-pipe is sacred to Scotland, and speaks a language which Scotsmen only feel. It talks to them of home, and of all the past..”.

On the other hand, Scotland itself had had no bagpipe collection in the museum. One of the reasons is because the major effect of English politic does more in ‘British history’ and neglect Scotland history. Meanwhile, the only museum of bagpipe in UK is in England: Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum.

There was lack of information and gaps on the history of bagpipes in Scotland in the museum collections. This fact is caused by the function of Great Highland Bagpipe as military and performing instrument makes it must always be kept in service and not allowed to be left unused. The Collecting Policy is an attempt to save the collection of bagpipe, which perceives as the national instrument of Scotland.

As Bryan (1971, cited in Cheape, 2007: 12-13) stated that because of an absence of material proof of their authenticity, the Great Highland Bagpipe never existed as a ancient/historical musical instrument.

Moreover, the repertoire of the traditional bagpipe songs could not documented well since the early pipers did not do the musical notation like in European ways. They did their songs by hearing and playing it, not reading the notes.

The significance function of museum collection is to keep the bagpipes as documents to support the design and originality of national instrument. Thus, without a national collection, Scotland has lack of evidences in building potential perspective of bagpipes as the national instruments (Cheape, 2007).  


Bagpipe did not originate in Scotland, but they came and evolved to what is now known as The Great Highland Bagpipes. The nobility of bagpipes is caused by the Highland tradition that maintains the piping culture among the clans. The lack of a bagpipes national collection in Scotland has prompted the museum to make a new policy for  bagpipe documentation.

Even though it did not originate in Scotland, their majestic sound travels so deep into Scottish culture Thus, in my opinion, the Great Highland Bagpipes are still a powerful national icons of Scotland, to show that this musical instrument as a part of Scottish ethnicity. 

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