Scottish Life Magazine - highland bagpipes artwork
Scottish highland bagpipe

The Highland Bagpipe by Simon McKerrell

Last night I was reminded of a very special aspect of the bagpipes: their place in community life. During the lockdown here in Scotland, we, alongside many others, have been showing our gratitude for our healthcare workers by standing outside our doors at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and clapping. This communal "Clap for Carers," as it has become known, was warmly welcome the first time it happened. It brought on the sudden realization that as well as the closer neighbours who we might speak to every week, we were connected to others further down the street and all around us. We were feeling a part of something larger than ourselves, and frankly, were grateful to be able to show our appreciation in person for those people caring for the ill during this pandemic.

In the second week, responding to the social media call from my old friend Finlay MacDonald, the newly minted Director of Piping at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, many of us pipers -- not only in Scotland, but also in the US, Canada, Spain, Italy and around the globe; thousands of players, if not more -- took our pipes out onto the doorstep at 8 p.m. on Thursday. We played Scotland the Brave to show our appreciation of health workers, and I was amazed at the warmth of the reception from the neighbours on our street when they heard the pipes. In amidst the upheavals of our normal social and piping calendar, we now understand that almost all the pipe band competitions, Highland games and really big events such as the World Championships and other majors will now be cancelled this year. This was similarly the case during the World Wars, as many of the bands (the men in the bands, that is) were called up to fight. The World Pipe Band Championships began in 1897 in the Cowal peninsula and none were held between 1914-18 due to the Great War or between 1940-45 during the Second World War.

However, we also know that, after the Second World War, many new bands were formed across the English-speaking world, both by people who had experienced the emotional power of the bagpipes in combat and by those who wished to celebrate and unite with the people around them in their local community. The situation we find ourselves in today is both similar and different.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2020 issue of Scottish Life.

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