The Devil’s Own Handiwork


The Devil’s Own Handiwork

Five sticks, a bag and several assorted pieces and slivers of cane: the Devil’s own handiwork.  The result is generally hated or loved, but rarely ignored.  No one I know is indifferent to the Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB).  Even those who play it bear the instrument some resentment.

I’ve lived with it now for almost forty years, so I’m entitled to an opinion at the very least, perhaps even learned a lesson or two.  I’ve yet to decide if I love it or hate it, but I am not indifferent.  Ambivalent is more the word.  Passionate, but undecided.

The sound is a complicated blend of tones and overtones, simple lines and fractal-like complexities.  There are just nine notes to work with, but its practitioners, its artists, have devised a thousand variations and combinations that defy common understanding and elude perfect mastery.   Piobaireachd  is the arcane classical form of highland music.  There are rules that govern how it is to be played, laid down by the ancient MacCrimmon family from Skye who were hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan.  It allows for some variation, but that is where the judgment of the critical adjudicators comes into play. I’ve heard a tune called The Judging Was Bad, no doubt composed by one whose performance was slighted.

To play the pipes requires fierce determination, unwavering focus and years of practice.


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