Celtic Music & Pipebands

Celtic Music is one of the most identifiable and recognized aspects of Scottish heritage and culture. Even to the casual listener, Scottish music is easily recognized for its unique quality and style. It has a definite power and presence that demands attention. This is not music that can be ignored as "background" music. People find that they are either magnetically drawn to it or beat a hasty retreat away from it. This is Gaelic "soul" played with intense feeling and listened to as an emotional experience.

The Scots have adopted the bagpipes as symbols of Scottish Nationalism. They are such powerful symbols that after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 the pipes were banned, as were tartan and the kilt, by the Hanoverian government in Britain. The government feared the stirring effect of the pipes on Scottish emotions. During the Proscription a first offense against the restrictions meant a six month prison sentence; those committing a second offense were liable to be transported to the colonies for seven years.

The Great Highland pipes consist of three drones (one bass and two tenor); a blowpipe with a valve to prevent the air from coming back out of the bag while the piper is taking a breath; a chanter with eight finger holes (nine notes), and a bag. Each drone has a single reed, like a clarinet, and the chanter has a double reed, very similar to that of an oboe. The piper plays by blowing in the blowpipe, inflating the bag enough to sound the three drones, then placing the bag under his arm and maintaining enough pressure to sound the chanter, on which the melody is played. The drones are tuned to “A” on the chanter scale, but two octaves lower.

When the tunes for a competition season are selected, the drum sergeant writes settings to accompany the tunes. Several bands in a competition could be playing the same selection of pipe tunes using the same notes and fingering but the drum sections would probably not sound alike. The snare drummers play beatings which are written to complement the pipe music. A Scottish snare drum is designed differently from other marching band snare drums - it has a snare immediately below the batter head (top). That, along with the use of new materials such as Kevlar heads, gives Scottish snare drums a distinctively crisp sound.

The tenor drummers are the drummers who are often seen flourishing their mallets. The tenor drums are tuned to the tenor drones.

The bass drum is tuned to the bass drone. The bass drummer is essentially the Band’s metronome. He maintains the tempo which the Drum or Pipe Major establishes.

Folk Music

Scotland and the other Celtic countries have produced an amazing amount of folk music over the past 500 years. The distinctive sound of this music underlines the cultural heritage shared by Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Galicia in Spain and the Brittany coast of France. Many tunes known for hundreds of years throughout these regions are distinguished only by different names, words and variations in performing styles. Within each region there are also tunes that are unique to that area alone.

Celtic folk music is an ethnic musical form that continues to have contemporary music written in the same style and feel as it was centuries ago.