Much as with potatoes originating from Ireland (Peru, actually), tomatoes from Italy (Mexico, actually), marijuana from Colombia (India, actually)–many assume bagpipes to be of Scottish origin.  The Celts though, were a tribe pushed from the Himalayas, all the way to the Northern British Isles, by gradual invasions of other, stronger tribes–as we may also see with Jewish Palestine today, the Indigenous North American encounter with Europeans a few centuries ago or the Bantu push into Southern Africa from the Western Equatorial Africa even before that, displacing the San, Khoekhoe and other Khoisan. The Celts picked up the bagpipe while passing through Mesopotamia (Iraq), on the way NorthWestward.



A musical instrument whose ancient origin was probably in Mesopotamia from which it was carried east and west by Celtic migrations. It was used in ancient Greece and Rome and has been long known in India. Some form of bagpipe was later used in nearly every European country; it was particularly fashionable in 18th-century France, where it was called the musette. Its widest use and greatest development was in the British Isles, particularly Northumberland, Ireland, and Scotland. The island of Skye was the home of a school for pipers. The Highland pipe of Scotland, the most well-known type, was a martial instrument and from it comes the modern great pipe; but at least six other types were once used in the British Isles. The basic construction of a bagpipe consists of a bag, usually leather, which is inflated either by mouth through a tube or by a bellows worked by the arm; one or two chanters (or chaunters), melody pipes having finger holes and fitted usually with double reeds; and one or more drones, which produce one sustained tone each and usually have single reeds, though the musette drones have double reeds. Associated with folk and military music, it has been neglected by composers, possibly because of its short range.

–T. H. Podnos, Bagpipes and Tunings (1974); T. Collinson, The Bagpipe (1975)


How can one know that a tradition is really old, since cultures are, and always have been, porous and changeable? There are a number of analytical tools that can be used. The music is not old if it features European harmony (simultaneous triadic note relationships) or the European pitch system. These elements are inventions of European art music, and did not spread to the rest of the world until the colonial era. Non-European music is not polyphonic or homophonic, but monodic or heterophonic, and there are many hundreds of pitch systems different from the European one. Other differing elements include melodic architecture, pitch range, embellishment, and vocal production.

-Lecture by Dirk Campbell given to ethnomusicology students at Goldsmiths College in 2006


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