"Perhaps the most difficult part is keeping a group in harmony."
July 29, 2015 7:51 AM   Subscribe

There are more than 285 competitive bagpipe bands in the United States, made up of thousands of pipers and drummers. Bands are divided into grades based on skill: Grade 5 is the lowest, akin to Little League; Grade 1 is the majors. In May 2014, the Massachusetts-based Stuart Highland Pipe Band was promoted to Grade 1, and next month they'll be facing off against other top-level bands in Glasgow at the annual World Pipe Band Championships. But first, the Stewies made their North American debut at the premier level at a competition in Ontario: Blowhards: On the road, down the bottle, and across the border with Boston’s greatest competitive bagpipe band.

Performances (All but the first link are amateur videos)
* Piping Live 2014. (Heralding the beginning of Glasgow's piping festival on the steps of the Royal Concert Hall. August 11, 2014.) More on Piping Live.
* Grade 1 Medley competition at the Kingston Scottish Festival, Ontario (May 23, 2015)
* Grade 1 Medley Rhode Island Highland Games 2015
* Glasgow Lands (July 18, 2015)
* Medley - New Hampshire Indoor 2015 Also: 6/8s set and more.
* Worlds 2014: Medley
posted by zarq (26 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Perhaps the most difficult part is keeping a group in harmony

It's news to me that bagpipe bands aim for anything but stirring, skirling, discordance.
posted by Segundus at 8:45 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


thank you for this list of times and places to avoid like the plague
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:08 AM on July 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter: Tattoo you
posted by furtive at 9:09 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love bagpipe music, but have never really known where to go to hear more. I usually just fire up my old, go-to Planxty albums. Thanks for the post!
posted by gilrain at 9:11 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The other tricky thing is bagpipes are usually tuned a few cents north of concert Bb.....but it varies from band to band and even bagpipe type to bagpipe type...depending on the reeds, chanter and drone pipe....

...so tuning the damn things so everyone is at the Exact same frequency is kind of a nightmare. Not to mention temperature can easily affect the previously tuned pipe once things start moving and flowing.

If you've ever heard a guitar being tuned, the open A string is 440hz, if the A note played on another string is 438 or 442 (a tiny amount!) you get a "wahwowwahwowwahwow" wave sound from the frequencies clashing.....which isn't so bad at low volumes, but imagine it with a herd of bagpipes which has only two settings:"off" and "loud".
posted by remlapm at 9:15 AM on July 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh...and bagpipes don't end until the song is over, the chanter is open ended so it's constantly making noise. Instead of an articulated Do Rey Me Fa (like a piano) you get DoooooReeeyyyyMeeeeee.

So what pipers do is embellish with other notes, quick little DoRey's to break up the otherwise legato notes (this takes years to master, years)....unless everyone's timing on those little baroque trills is perfectly instep you get a mash of random notes, legato and....again...being slightly out of tune.
posted by remlapm at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


thank you for this list of times and places to avoid like the plague


I'm going to a conference that's happening in Glasgow at the same time, and have the exact opposite reaction. When I get tired of papers, I can go listen to bagpipes!!! My husband is flying out to join me-- he's staying an extra day so he can hear his friend compete.
posted by damayanti at 9:42 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


gilrain: I love bagpipe music, but have never really known where to go to hear more.

Oh, ho ho ho -- I can help you! In St. Paul, Minnesota, on the 1600 block of Summit Avenue, often quite too close to sunrise, a bagpiper from Macalester College's pipe band used to come out and practice. He was clearly a novice -- and not a quick study -- and the nasal whine made sure to alienate residents from Snelling Avenue to Hamline, long before the annual Scottish Fair rolled onto campus.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:51 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Folks, it's okay to not like bagpipes, but it's not strictly necessary to make a point of saying so just because the subject of the instrument comes up.]
posted by cortex at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


We had a piper at our wedding -- this was all pre-internet, and it was hard to find someone. I think we called every Scottish/Irish shop we could find in our big city. Anyway, he was great. Years later we met some people who were into competitive bagpiping and we mentioned this guy's name -- Eric Rigler -- to them and everyone's eyes bugged out. Turned out we'd had one of the most famous American pipers at our wedding. It was like finding out we'd had Dylan in our wedding band or something.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:17 AM on July 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Cortex, I may not have been clear: there are pipers like every-damn-where, and college campuses are a good example of a place to find them. That is, one guy sucked, but there was a whole annual Scottish cultural fair and Highland games that tons of people attended.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


(...And my niece played fiddle at his year's Scottish Fair!)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:25 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


More than 285 competitive bagpipe bands in the United States? Whoa, that must be that race to the bottom thing I've been hearing about.

(ps i am scottish, and i give you permission that it's completely okay not to like bagpipes; indeed, anyone who even thinks about flagging this comment is using their privilege to crush the valid expression of my ethnicity.)
posted by scruss at 10:42 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Adam Holdaway is tipsy. In the past hour, he has gone from downing plastic cups of Steam Whistle pilsner to swigging Johnnie Walker Black Label and Jameson straight from the bottle. Kneeling on the first seat of a charter bus in front of 48 other passengers, his Somerville accent slurs over the PA system: Remember, he warns, “We can’t go through the border with open containers.”

Having that Johnnie Walker confiscated at the border would be an act of tender mercy.

Seriously, though, I love massed pipe bands. Like love, love them. I guess maybe because I'm half Scottish and attended a lot of Highland Games as a kid.

So thanks for this post. I see a proper single malt and these links forming an integral part of my upcoming long weekend!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love bagpipe music, but have never really known where to go to hear more.

For a little something different, a few years ago I saw Taxi Chain open for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. It was a good show. More here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Folks, it's okay to not like bagpipes,

I like them. You got a problem with discordance?
posted by Segundus at 1:07 PM on July 29, 2015


thank you for this list of times and places to avoid like the plague


Did you know that, in Toronto, a piper cannot legally be charged with a breach of the peace?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well it's complicated: there's that old saying that when a pipe organ plays it shows the majesty of God, and when it stops it shows the grace of God. That sentiment applies equally well to bagpipes—I actually do like them, in appropriate doses and skillfully played. A day full of top-grade competitive bands playing would be an impressive day that I would enjoy and I'd probably need a drink afterward just as a spectator.

Also, I remember hearing about that incident with the ivory at the border. It's annoying to have all your paperwork in order, get all these officials swearing up one side and down the other that everything's kosher, everything's legal, then you reach the border and learn LOL no.
posted by traveler_ at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2015


In tune you say, tell that to 333 Bulgarians https://youtu.be/jccGfGBkky4
posted by asok at 4:30 PM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love bagpipes! In fact, the University of Chicago has a whole band of them, so when I was there I got to hear them on a regular basis.

Not everyone was quite so fond of them. After I graduated, I worked for a year in an office in Wieboldt Hall, which had no a/c. This led to feelings of unpleasant warmth [1] during the summer, so we all had our windows open. One one particularly hot day, a bagpiper was practicing out on the Midway. According to someone who worked in one of the deans' offices, an overheated dean suddenly snapped and yelled, "THERE'S A RAGING BAGPIPER ON THE MIDWAY!!! SOMEBODY STOP HIM!!!" (Nobody did.)

[1] By which I mean "sauna-like conditions."
posted by thomas j wise at 5:48 PM on July 29, 2015


I have listened to a lot of different genres of music in my time, but hearing serious Scottish pipe and drum corps getting down in competition is the deepest human sound thing imaginable. The harmony of the spheres start to interlock, and the very heavens begin to open up. It's indescribable. It's otherworldly.
posted by ovvl at 6:35 PM on July 29, 2015


Also note: The Kingston Scottish Festival mentioned above is not on my personal radar as much as The Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville Ontario, which is a pretty big deal if you interested in this sort of thing..
posted by ovvl at 6:42 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love bagpipes so much that I have little pieces of bagpipe trivia stuck in my head-- like the fact that a rich donor insisted part of his bequest to a university be used to create a bachelor's degree in bagpipe studies.
posted by seasparrow at 8:06 PM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The area I live was settled mainly by Scottish. The house that I'm currently living in was built by Scottish 2x great grandparents.

This area has had pipes and drums since forever. This is what happens every Saturday night during the summer.

I organize the Scottish festival. This year was our biggest yet in numbers of pipers. 30+ bands competing during the day. The awards ceremony takes place where three streets meet. The bands split into 3 groups and each take turn playing and marching to the T corner where the small stage is. Then close to 800 pipes and drums play together.

Listening while that close is an incredible experience, the music just fills your body. I love it.
Here are a couple of videos.

This one is taken from where I was standing.



We also have a the tradition of the Phantom Piper that plays at sunset on top of the lighthouse.
posted by Jalliah at 4:08 AM on July 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


According to someone who worked in one of the deans' offices, an overheated dean suddenly snapped and yelled, "THERE'S A RAGING BAGPIPER ON THE MIDWAY!!! SOMEBODY STOP HIM!!!" (Nobody did.)

Reminded me of an old joke:

"They wouldn'a scream so loud if you didn'a squeeze 'em so hard!"

See also: Parts of a Bagpipe.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Loud recordings of Macedonian bagpipe and drum music played as loud as my speakers could go used to be my method for shutting down the noisy narco-corrientes interspersed with regaton in my neighborhood.
Calling the police did not work anywhere near as well.
I like bagpipes in their many forms.
Mr. Roquette isn't so fond of bag/ pipes. He however is nearly pure English. :)
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:17 PM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


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