Happy St. Patrick’s Day! St. Patrick was a Scotsman who spread the Gospel to a pagan nation. Isaiah 9:2 – KJV “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” For more information about St. Patrick: http://www.joyfulheart.com/holiday/patrick.htm
The Caber Toss (Gaelic caber, a pole or beam) is a traditional Scottish athletic exercise which consists of throwing a section of a trunk of a tree, called the “caber,” in such a manner that it turns over in the air and falls on the ground with its small end pointing in the direction directly opposite to the “tosser.” This event is a staple at the Highland games held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands.
This modern test of strength, agility and balance can be traced back to 17th and 18th century illustrations and descriptions. Scotland proudly claims the origin of caber toss, although there were very similar activities in the Nordic lands, France, Italy and Germany.
The most prominent theory surrounding the origin of the caber toss is that of crossing the stream. The caber was tossed from one side of the river to the other to allow people to cross. This is why the caber is tossed for accuracy, rather than distance. Though another popular explanation involves tossing logs during battle, either across a moat or against the walls of a castle or to breach a barrier.
1. Start with a wooden pole about 16-22 feet long, and weighing anywhere from 80-180 pounds – different festivals have different regulations. One end of the pole should be tapered. This pole is the caber.
(According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest caber ever tossed was 25 feet long and weighed 280 pounds!)
2. Have the pole brought to you, which usually requires at least three grown men. Lift the caber into your arms – this is called the ‘pick.’
3. Hoist the caber, so that the bottom of the pole is about level with your elbows. Cup the smaller, tapered end of the pole in your palms, and balance its weight against your shoulder.
4. When properly balanced, run forward with the caber for about twenty yards, so as to gain momentum. This is called the ‘approach.’
5. After a good running start, plant your feet so as to provide a good throwing platform. This is called the ‘plant.’
6. Push upward and out, away from your shoulders. Your intention is to flip the pole, with the larger end of the caber hitting the ground, so that the pole lands in a straight line perpendicular to your shoulders.
The object is not the distance of the throw, but rather to have the caber fall directly away from the thrower after landing. A perfect throw ends with the ‘top’ end nearest to the thrower and the ‘bottom’ end pointing exactly away. If the throw is not perfect, it is scored by viewing the caber as though it were the hour hand on a clock. A perfect toss is 12:00. A caber pointing to 11:00 would yield a better score than one pointing to 10:30 but would be the equivalent of 1:00. If the caber lands on its end and falls back towards the thrower, the score is lower than for any throw that falls away from the thrower but will be based upon the maximum vertical angle that the caber achieved (side-judging may involve a second judge.) An angle of 87° is better than 75°. Scoring depends on accuracy, and if the caber did not completely turn once, then it is based on the degree that it rose away from the ground.
Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper, and balance, all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a successful toss. If a caber is too heavy to be ‘turned’, it may be cut until a successful toss.
Bagpipes have been in existence for centuries and have been among the most popular musical instruments in Europe. While the find extensive use across Europe, Northern Africa, and the Persian Gulf, the Scottish Highlands is the place that first comes to mind whenever there is talk of bagpipes and bag piping.
Bagpipes have had a very colorful history and have traveled across seas and continents. Bagpipes have evolved continuously over the centuries, both in terms of the sophistication of the instrument and the method in which it is played. However, a set of bagpipes still consist an air supply, a bag, a chanter, and a drone. Additional drones and chanters that are now a part of most bagpipes are a comparatively recent addition and were not present in the bagpipes of old.
Popular belief places the origin of bagpipes in Scotland or Ireland. Bagpipes though, first made their appearance several centuries before Christ in the Middle East. Back then, it was made out of goat skin and had reeds crudely stuck into the bag.
Evidence of bagpipes has also been found in ancient Egypt. As the Mediterranean lands became civilized and population spread through Europe, the bagpipe found its way to Rome, where it became the musical instrument of the infantry.
It is believed that the Romans brought the bagpipe to Scotland in the 14th century, where it was quickly adapted by the natives. However, another school of thought believes the bagpipe came to Scotland through Ireland, while certain others believe the Scots developed it on their own without any external influence. Whatever the case, bagpipes found a permanent home in the hearts and lives of the people of Scotland.
The Great Pipes of Scotland, as they were better known in Europe, have historically been the most used musical instrument in wars. As the pipes could produce sharp and shrill notes that could easily be heard above the din of battle and could carry up to a distance of 10 miles, army units found them to be perfect for leading both infantry and cavalry.
During the Highland revolts of the early 1700s, bagpipes were classified by the ruling government as instruments of war and were banned from use. However, the Highlanders continued to use bagpipes as a mark of their demand for freedom. So beloved was the bagpipe as a musical instrument in Scotland and Ireland, that every village had it along with an official piper.
The piper would play music and entertain villagers at marriages and other village events. The haunting notes of the bagpipe were also used to rally clans to battle, and for marking the passing away of a clan leader or chieftain.
Talking of present times, the bagpipe continues to find use in military units especially in the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. It is played at almost all formal occasions. Police forces in Scotland, Canada, Australia, the US and a number of other countries have also adopted the bagpipe as an official musical instrument and have pipe-bands for playing the instrument.
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The bagpipe is a complex musical instrument that takes time to learn. Every pipe player must commit to taking lessons and going through each stage of training. To develop proficiency, you will need to learn more than reading notes on a musical score. You will also need to master the art of proper breathing. For many players, this is one of the most difficult aspects of learning to play bagpipes. Next, you will need to learn fingering, sometimes quite a feat for any musical instrument, but especially this wind instrument.
Long ago young aspiring bagpipers studied with an accomplished piper. It could take years to master the multiple techniques required to become a competent piper. Today, learning to play bagpipes is easier because of the practice chanter. You will use it to grasp the fundamentals of breathing, fingering and producing the notes of the scale. With practice, you will soon be ready to start producing the notes of the musical scale, but no actual melodies yet.
The practice chanter resembles a flute, but it has a reed, like an oboe. Its purpose is to introduce people to playing bagpipes. Some people attempt to start out with an actual bagpipe. Most experts agree that this method is futile and frustrating even if you are musically inclined or a trained player of a different instrument.
Finding practice music and lessons will be the next step. It helps if an aspiring bagpipe player can already read sheet music. Bagpipe music has special notations on the score, for different techniques that players must use during the selection. It will be difficult to become proficient at bagpipes until you learn to read music.
Some people can progress from the chanter to the bagpipe on their own. It is easy to find a few free lessons on the Internet at Bagpipe Lessons.com. Many large music stores carry CDs, DVDs and bagpipe sheet music. If you are truly interested in learning to play this instrument well, consider taking lessons from a good piping teacher. Check out bagpipe bands in your area and ask for recommendations. Just like long ago, the best pipers had teachers who helped them master this beautiful instrument, step-by-step.
Roland Kirk was a prolific musician who brought the bagpipe to jazz in the late 60s. Since he had already introduced several non-traditional instruments to the jazz scene, this was no surprise to his fans. His main instrument was saxophone.
Kirk was born 1936. He lost his sight at the age of two. He was educated at the Ohio State School for the Blind. It was there that he learned music and started playing saxophone and clarinet in the school’s band. By the time he was 16, he was already performing professionally with his own group in the local clubs. He recorded his first album, Triple Threat, in 1956 at twenty. After touring with Charlie Mingus in 1961 and performing solo in Germany, he formed his own band, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and The Vibration Society.
Soon after, this blind musician became a jazz legend. During his career, when someone asked if his blindness was a handicap to his career, he usually replied that he was just a musician who can’t see too well. Kirk eventually learned to play a whopping 40 musical instruments. He often reconfigured them so that he could play more than one simultaneously, which he became known for in the music industry.
His musical repertoire included gospel, jazz, blues, and top hits. He plays bagpipes on Slightly Latin, released by Limelight in 1966; Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata on Atlantic, 1970; and Prepare Thyself To Deal With a Miracle, Atlantic, 1973. He often played bagpipe selections at live performances. His mastery of a technique called circular breathing allowed him to play without pausing for breath. This was a boon to him when he used jazz phrasing on the bagpipe. Listen to his “Bagpipe Medley” on Rhapsody for free.
Undaunted by a stroke in 1975, he continued to play several instruments. He performed and recorded until his death in 1977. Fans and colleagues keep his music alive. They continue to spread the Bright Moments (a much-loved original composition) that he gave the world through the bagpipe and other musical instruments.