Scottish Bagpipe Music - A Tribute to Scotland

From a height of land, out over the clear waters of Loch Ern floats the wild, pure lament of a lone piper. A pibroch as deep and dark as "old Ben Voirloch's sleepy shade", the haunting music of the pipes calls to something fierce and free, something in the very depths of the soul. The heart of the piper seems to speak directly to our hearts, of sorrow, of aching-loss, but yet speaks it with such beauty that our longing is somehow eased. Such is the magic of the Scottish bagpipes.

I have also heard the bright skirling of the pipes referred to as "that sound that's made when a half a hundred cats have their tails stepped on all at once!" Love them or loathe them, either way, there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to the bagpipes.

Ben Voirloch from www.electricscotland.com
Ben Voirloch from www.electricscotland.com
Another view of Ben Voirloch, called "Ben Vorlich" at www.goscot.co.uk
Another view of Ben Voirloch, called "Ben Vorlich" at www.goscot.co.uk

I love a parade...

...and what, I ask you, would any parade be without at least one Pipe Band. Every police force, fire department, and regiment in the armed forces seems to have its very own Pipe and Drum Corp - the Black Watch, the Princess Pats, the Royal Seaforth Highlanders, to name but a few, all led by a plumed and kilted band of pipers who proudly set the pace.

I can't remember a single parade that didn't include at least one Pipe and Drum Band in the proceedings. The sound of the pipes always heralded the start of the excitement, their distinctive, atonal first notes signaling the approach of the first entrant.

My grandmother was a fine pianist, and trained in oratorio. One of the pieces she used to sing was called "When Angus MacDonald Came Home From The War". It was a fine, stirring piece, full of coloratura bravado, with a dramatically high and satisfyingly crescendo-ed finale. It was what you might call a real barn-burner.

The other piece she was often asked for though, and one of my favorites, is a lovely lilting song called "The Green Hills of Tyrol". I have since heard it recorded by many famous artists, but I still fondly remember Granny's stellar rendition.

The tune, "The Green Hills of Tyrol", was written by John MacLeod during the Crimean War, and is based on an alpine folk tune used in Rossini's opera, William Tell.

The story of the lyrics, which were written some time later, was told to me as follows:

Often referred to as, "A Scottish Soldier", this song is about a dying Scottish soldier. Long away from home, fighting in the Napoleonic Wars he is now dying, wishing to return to the hills of his homeland rather than die in Tyrol, in Hapsburg's Austria. 

There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away
There was none bolder, with good broad shoulder
He's fought in many a fray, and fought and won.
He'd seen the glory and told the story
Of battles glorious and deeds victorious
But now he's sighing, his heart is crying
To leave these green hills of Tyrol.

Because those green hills are not highland hills
Or the island hills, they're not my land's hills
And fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

And now this soldier, this Scottish soldier
Who wandered far away and soldiered far away
Sees leaves are falling and death is calling
And he will fade away, in that far land.
He called his piper, his trusty piper
And bade him sound a lay... a pibroch sad to play
Upon a hillside, a Scottish hillside
Not on these green hills of Tyrol.

Because those green hills are not highland hills
Or the island hills, they're not my land's hills
And fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

And so this soldier, this Scottish soldier
Will wander far no more and soldier far no more
And on a hillside, a Scottish hillside
You'll see a piper play his soldier home.
He'd seen the glory, he'd told his story
Of battles glorious and deeds victorious
The bugles cease now, he is at peace now
Far from those green hills of Tyrol.

Because these green hills are not highland hills
Or the island hills, they're not my land's hills
And fair as these green foreign hills may be
They are not the hills of home.

A Pibroch

W.O. Mitchell from womitchell.ca
W.O. Mitchell from womitchell.ca

Flowers of the Forest - a lament for the fallen of Culloden

One theater productions that gave me great satisfaction to work on was W.O. Mitchell's "The Black Bonspeil of Willie MacCrimmon". It's a delightful piece of small town Canadiana, about a passionate curler who makes a deal with the devil over a curling match. The climax of the play involves an actual curling match on stage. Some have likened it to the showdown in "The Devil and Daniel Webster", but the curling match has always been far more exciting for me than the emotion-laden trial of the latter piece.

We were blessed on that production with the presence of the author for the opening night performance - great for publicity, but guaranteed to bring on a case of nerves for cast and director alike. Mercifully he is a consummate gentleman who has most likely endured thousands of productions of his plays. He vowed he was as enchanted with us as we were with him.

We were also blessed with a real "dead-eye dick" from the local curling club, who hurled his stones across the stage with uncanny accuracy, to the delight of all. I do believe he had the loudest and longest curtain call of the entire cast save one - our piper.

Though the script called for a pibroch to lead in the devil's rink, our man explained that a true pibroch, though technically demanding, would not really suit the character of out play. We did try out several well-known pibrochs but in the end, when he offered a lament, I knew we'd found our piece.

Not only did he lead in the devil's rink in great style, but our piper found a way to use the backstage acoustics in such a way as to make the pipes sound like they were coming from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time - a truly spooky experience. Oh, he was a bonny wee piper.

Whether the bagpipes were truly invented by the Greeks, and came to Scotland via Irish pipers, there is no sound on this earth that calls to mind the "heather o' the isles" in quite the same way. Nothing stirs the soul in the same manner, and nothing makes you wish you were in Scotland like the sound of the pipes.

© 2010, Text by Elle Fredine, All rights reserved

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20 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank youi for a wonderful read and information. I am bit mystified about the piece about Tyrol. Tyrol - isn't in Austria? Maybe you could explain.


WE5 profile image

WE5 6 years ago

Redelf,

Great read, thanks! I'll add a little ancecdote to this. Back in the mid eighties I was working on the design & construction of the Canadian Frigates in Saint John NB. We were a bunch of single contractors making pretty good money for those days and as such ended up in most of the pubs in the city at one time or another. We had one that sort of became a fovourite just around the corner from the office. It was called 'Pipers'. It was only a small, basement type of joint seating about maximum 50 people with room for 50 or so more standing, drinking and playing darts. Into this add daily entertainment of the owner and his friends marching into the tiny place, in full gear, playing bagpipes in all their glory! they played everything...traditionl scottish marching and dance music, top forty, Beatles,...and yes, you haven't truly lived until you've heard 'Stairway to Heaven' on a bagpipe in a basement.

Can you say 'loud'?! these guys were really talented and there were a lot of good times there. Actually I was talking to one of the pipers who explained that he had his reeds 'tied off' as tight as he could to keep it from being loud! Remember, these things are designed to be heard on a battlefield amidst chaos!


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I was born in Scotland, lived there for 11 1/2 years. However, I cannot stand bagpipes. I think I must have been frightened by one when I was a child :)


entertianmentplus profile image

entertianmentplus 6 years ago from United States

Very enjoyable hub.Thanks for sharing.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

RedElf - your hub is truly a tribute to Scotland as well as the bagpipes although it wasn't labeled as such. Enjoyed the read and the ride.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Great hub.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Hi RedElf - That Highland Mist Pipe Band reminded me of the Scotch military band that put on a marching and piping display for the students in our elementary school. They were on tour in support of the WW-2 effort in the early 1940s. Those were interesting times for us kids. We had a contingent of the Norwegian navy (torpedo boats) stationed in our town, a US Army fort on a small island off of the harbor, big "flying boats" that landed and departed out in the sound, all sorts of air raid drills and blackouts, plus a number of scares that the German subs in nearby waters would come to "get us." I think that the memory of the kilt-skirted bagpipers was probably the best of those memories.

Gus :-)))


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much Hh - that's a really good point! I have added the lyrics and an explanation above.

Thanks so much, WE5, for the great anecdote! They weren't called "the ladies from hell" for no reason ;) "loud" is too right.

UV, I hear you - I got the "cat" remark from my dad - he's not overfond of them either.

entertainmentplus and sandyspider, thanks so much for reading and commenting.

drbj, thanks - I have amended that! - and thanks!

Thanks, Gus - I caught the aftermath of most of those times, and was well away from such things, in the high Arctic, but grew up on military bases, so I have some inkling...thanks so much for the piece of your past, and I'm glad the pipes were a pleasant memory.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I loved your hub and the video's! I appreciate the sound of the pipes and happily have never experienced the screeching cat variety. Nice work RE.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

RedElf, I really enjoyed your hub and I have always enjoyed bagpipe music. Your choices of music were really good. Excellent hub.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada Author

Greetings, GL. So glad you've missed the screechers. That reminds me of my days as a student teacher, practicing playing the recorder. The music class for us would-be teachers was "how to teach music to elementary kids", and we were required to master several instruments. Some of us used to practice our recorder pieces together in the stairwell of the North Education building wing, because it had great acoustics, and little traffic. If we were having a bad day, though, it sounded like a flock of seagulls was being murdered, noisily, and en-masse. Not a pretty sound. If anyone asked where we were headed with our instruments, we would answer, "we're off to the stairwells to strangle seagulls." Thank goodness we didn't have to learn the bagpipes - we made enough egregious noises with the recorders.

Thanks so much, Pamela99! Those are some of my favorite pieces ;)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

A fine tribute to piping Elle. One of my favorite groups, the Canadian Tenors, has a wonderful rendition of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen that starts out with a hauntingly beautiful bagpipe melody.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada Author

Hi there, Winsome. That is one of my all-time favorites! ...and with bagpipes, too. I will definitely look for that one.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

Great hub Red - loved the videos :D and the lyrics for your Granny's song!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much - Granny was a corker, and she could still sing like an angel well into her 70s.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Tom - I have included your message below without your link :D

Tom 7 hours ago

Pipes are so unique. Did a gig many years ago where we had a piper sit in with our jazz band and the pipes were so loud but very cool sounding


malhota profile image

malhota 4 years ago from Portugal

I've been in Scotland last october, and I really enjoyed the bagpipe music. It calms you, in some strange way... Great hub! :)


RedElf profile image

RedElf 4 years ago from Canada Author

malhota, I'd have to agree. I find the music of the pipes quite haunting.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

My husband is going to LOVE this hub!! His family is from Scotland and they're so proud of their heritage, we get clan presents (with the appropriate plaid) for Christmas. This is *awesome* :) Voted up and SHARING!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 4 years ago from Canada Author

cclitgirl, thanks so much! The "clan" gifts sound lovely - what a nice way to celebrate a family connection.

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