(This is an article written by Louise Baggett and reprinted from Spring 2006 of One World.)
When bagpipes are mentioned, the first thought that comes to many minds is the Scottish bagpipe. Actually, many countries of the world have their own version of bagpipes (refer to the image from Tumblr for examples).
The need for music beyond the human voice brought forth the making of sound from items in nature. Many forms of drums were made from hollow logs or skin stretched across a framework of crude sticks. Whistles and flutes were made form hollowed-out tree branches. From an inherent need for rhythm, music and body movement came dance.
The origin of bagpipes appears to be lost, but at some point it was discovered that by using an animal skin or stomach and attaching a whistle or flute to the only opening, the air from the bag could be squeezed to blow the whistle or flute. This had a double value: it provided sound, but used far less effort. As explorers moved throughout the known world, the idea traveled and many more areas of the world developed their own form of the bagpipe – some simple, some very elaborate.
They could easily be heard and were usually played outdoors and were used extensively to play for dances. Often, groups of pipers use different levels of sound, plus the drone pipe, which in most bagpipes carries one note throughout the music, creating more volume. The drone pipe sound has a hypnotizing effect which adds to the fascination of the bagpipe worldwide.
The idea of a bagpipe spread through all of Europe to North Africa, each country having its own idea. Various forms of bagpipes are used widely in North Africa and at the same time they appear in Scandinavia and France. There are too many to mention, but the Italian Zapagna is probably the only survivor of the elaborate use of double wide flaring bells on their chanters and also their use of double reeds like an oboe or bassoon. In Italy, the shepherds would come down from the mountain at Christmas time and play for the celebration of the holidays. Although often drums accompany bagpipes, sometimes in northern Italy the bagpipe music was accompanied by stamping of heavy boots in rhythm.
The Celtic Uilleann pipe has a lighter, sweeter sound. In the Balkan countries, bagpipes such as Macedonian Gajda (alt. gaida), Bulgarian and Greek Gajdas are included in music for dance groups, and, in Spain, Galician music is played on the gaita galega.
The Turkish bagpipe is called a Dulum and also accompanies folk dances. There is another form of Turkish music that does not use a bag at all – the musician learns circular breathing. This involves a method of filling his cheeks with air, breathing in through his nose, while pushing the air out through a horn which is held between his lips. This is very difficult to learn but man has always reached for new challenges. Many Turks use this method.
Visit www.hotpipes.com/album.html to hear sound samples of the Sean Folsom CD, Bagpipes of the World, which contains cuts from 30 styles of bagpipe. Also, www.rootsworld.com/bagpipes has a link to “Radio Gaita…playing “bagpipe music from around the world.”
The bagpipe in some form has survived for over 2,000 years in a great many areas of the world. The almost universal use and long history of the bagpipe is another example of the commonality of the human experience.