Piping Hot

I could here the drone a block away. It was like an electrical hum, that is if the electric box had been made out of fine African mahogany. It was a living sound, like bees, only deeper, stronger.

It was a sound that buzzed the whole day on Glasgow Green this past Saturday at the International Bagpiping Festival. I’ve been trying to make myself get out and see Scotland while I’m here in Scotland, so on Saturday I jumped a train into Glasgow to see the festival.

It was a colorful affair in more ways than one. There was an amazing variety of kilts and dress uniforms worn by members of both sexes. And there was an amazing variety of skin pigmentation as pipers from as far away as Africa, New Zealand and Los Angeles gathered to give their best.

Bagpiping contests work this way. Bands, composed of pipers and drummers line up and march into the ring and form a circle, then the lead piper begins to step the tempo. The bass drummer starts swaying gently back and forth, then the snare drummers and the tenor drummers do the same thing. Everyone knows the tempo before they start, they can feel it in their blood.

Then the pipes and the drones (the long pipes coming out over the piper’s shoulder)come in with that unique bagpipe sound. The band goes through its music, then marches out of the arena. Before, during and after the performance judges observe all the minute details, making notes to be passed to the respective committees for final evaluation.

How they determine a winner out of this I just don’t know. All the bands played the same two songs, and so over and over again I heard them and wondered what I’d put down if I were a judge. “You guys look great. Fantastic kilts; eye popping colors. Your marching is a little sloppy, but you sound great, just like the last twenty groups that came through here. I have no idea how we’re going to decide a winner, probably by lottery. So, all the best, and see you next year!”

Most surprising to me was the stirring within my own blood. I am Scottish by birth and ancestry so I suppose its really only natural that I felt a lump forming at the back of my throat during the various performances. Something deep down inside said, “Aye, that’s for me!”

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