The Great Highland Bagpipe: From the Archaic to Modern Little Has Changed
BY PIPING TIMES REPORTERS N
EW research into the bagpipe’s history has found that the basic instrument has
not changed significantly since it first appeared in its ‘golden age’ 400 years ago. This is contrary to the view of some piping historians.The research – to be published in the PT – has been conducted over a number of years by US based scientists and pipers Dr John Kidd and Dr ElliotWoodaman. Dr Kidd received a Ph.D. in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1962. Dr Woodaman received a Ph. D. in Linguistics in 1972, and through his work in acoustic phonetics was able to follow Dr Kidd’s bagpipe investigations. In a preliminary statement they write: ‘Our position is that
the Highland bagpipe has existed largely in its current form since the ‘golden age’ of the 17th century, and that the differences between the archaic and the modern Highland pipe simply reflect two basic improvements: 1) more precisely finished exteriors and bores, due to the improvements in lathe technology made during the industrial revolution; and 2) a significant acoustic advance, the shift from the
flare-top to the bell-top drone.To put it more succinctly, today’s Highland bagpipe has not changed significantly since it first appeared in the ‘golden age’: the chanter plays the same just scale and three pentatonic modes; it has had one bass and two tenor drones at least since the ‘golden age’; and to this day, the same ‘golden age’music is played.
‘Thus we are not in accord with Hugh
Cheape’s Conclusion disputed
suggestion (‘Bagpipes’ 2008, p.123) that in the 18th century, the modern Highland bagpipe was ‘arguably a new invention’. This is our only major difference with this admirable book (and on which our research strongly relies).We also acknowledge the work of Dr Roderick D. Cannon in his 2002
work The Highland Bagpipe and Its Music as our first specific source of the notion of continuity between the archaic and the modern bagpipe. Finally we note that none of this would have been possible without having subscribed to the PipingTimes (PT) over the years, and so having had access to its illustrations of historic pipes and the invaluable work of Jeannie Campbell.