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.