Bagpipes on the Silver Screen
The bagpipe is a common instrument at funerals, especially for the fallen military and public safety personnel like firefighters and members of the police force. It has been a prominent feature at weddings and community gatherings since Irish and Scottish immigrants made it popular on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Great Highland Bagpipes are easily the most famous and most familiar. These bagpipes have not only spread out across the country from major cities like Boston, New York and Boston along the east coast that provided refuge from the Potato Famine. Some bagpipes have also played starring roles in Hollywood movies and popular TV series. Bagpipes have even appeared in a few memorable commercials too. You may recognize quite a few of the supporting actors who have appeared on screen in productions that included bagpipes.
1935 - Bonnie Scotland, Laurel and Hardy inherit bagpipes
- 1939 - Gunga Din, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks set in India during British rule
- 1949 - The Hasty Heart, Ronald Reagan and Richard Todd, World War II
- 1958 - The Buccaneer, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, the Battle of New Orleans
- 1959 - Journey to the Center of the Earth, Pat Boone, James Mason and Arlene Dahl, Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band
- 1965 - Help, the Beatles and a bagpipe band
- 1967 - Casino Royale, a James Bond classic, with David Niven as 007
- 1981 - Gallipoli, Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, Athol and Ulster Pipe Band (Australia)
- 1985 - Braveheart, a Mel Gibson classic set in Scotland that used Uilleann Pipes (Ireland) instead of Great Highland Bagpipes (Scotland)
- 1985 - Highlander, Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, first movie of the series
- 1986 - Ferris Bueller's Day Off, parade with bagpipe band
- 1989 - The Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams (pipes and chanter)
- 1995 - Burger King commercial, featuring the Los Angeles Police Pipe Band
- 1996 - Invention, the Smithsonian and Discovery Channel explain bagpipes
- 1997 - Coke commercial, featuring College of Wooster, Pipe Band of Ohio
This is a selection of bagpipes roles from the silver screen and its offspring (TV). You can find many more movies, commercials and TV series that have bagpipes in starring roles, as off-screen soundtracks or featured in other ways at Bagpipes Go to the Movies or by using the Internet Movie Database's advanced search option.
Roland Kirk's Jazz Bagpipes
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.
You’ve Come a Long Way Baggy
Watch any movie with footage of any United States armed services funeral, from World War I up to the war in Iraq. You’re bound to see a familiar scene – the lone piper playing a bagpipe. Traditionally, the song you hear is “Amazing Grace.” It comes just before or just after the military band plays “Taps.” Oddly, the first bagpipe bands in the United States weren’t formed by the military.
Just when did the bagpipe become a part of U.S. military and police ceremonies? The earliest record of bagpipes played in military ceremonies starts with British army bagpipe bands. Near the end of the 19th century, Scottish servicemen leaving the Queen’s service carried the military bagpipe band tradition home. Then they joined their local police forces. The oldest, Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, formed in 1883, is based in Glasgow, Scotland.
Soon after, a multitude of Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, seeking refuge from the Potato Famine. Many settled in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Some found work with the police and fire departments in these cities. They continued their Celtic cultural tradition of playing bagpipes at community gatherings, including weddings and funerals.
As more people became familiar with the music of the bagpipe, these bagpipe groups, mainly immigrants, were asked to perform at funerals and memorials for non-Irish and Scottish police officers. A new tradition soon took hold as the bagpipe’s haunting sound began to be associated with memorializing those who lost their lives as public servants.
In 1961, New York’s famous St Patrick’s Day Parade marked the debut of the Pipes and Drums of the Emerald Society of the New York City Police Department. Chicago’s police department followed in 1982, inspired by New York. The band travels throughout the country to honor their fallen comrades, including firefighters and armed forces personnel. The Chicago bagpipe band and New York’s are still going strong. State and local police departments have established bagpipe bands across the United States.
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