The Newtown Pentacle

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hewed way

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The pipes, the pipes are calling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s just something about that sound. For people of certain ancestries, Bagpipes sound pretty good (I’m one of them) and they stir the emotions. To others, and this has nothing to do with the modern concept of “nationality” so get over that one, this instrument creates a wave of revulsion that shakes them to their core. Your humble narrator used to keep a disc of bagpipe music handy to break up teenager parties in our last apartment building. The kids would scatter as soon as the drone started, acting as if chlorine gas had been released into the air.

from wikipedia

Bagpipes are a class of musical instrument, aerophones, using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag. Though the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and Irish uilleann pipes have the greatest international visibility, bagpipes have been played for centuries throughout large parts of Europe, the Caucasus, around the Persian Gulf and in Northern Africa. The term bagpipe is equally correct in the singular or plural, although in the English language, pipers most commonly talk of “the pipes”, “a set of pipes” or “a stand of pipes”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Irish and Scots considered (one of the hundreds of variations on the bagpipe) this instrument a weapon of war. The Spartans marched behind a sort of bagpipe, accompanied by drums, all the way back in ancient Greece. The legend of Emperor Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned is apparently a bastardization of Emperor Nero playing the Tibia Utricularis, Roman bagpipes, while the inferno roared.

from a very cool site, with lots of historic representations of bagpipes, going all the way back to the Roman Tibia Utricularis,

All throughout the centuries when warpipes were used by the Irish as a part ot their military equipment. Little Irish history was made in their absence, though their participation in the activities of warfare was not specifically mentioned. In forays and battles the pipers took literally a foremost part. Being always in the lead, and heroically remaining to encourage their troops with spirited war tunes, until death or defeat silenced their strains.

The Irish advanced to the charge at the famous battle of Bel-an-atha-buidhe, or the Yellow Ford, in 1598 to the stirring strains of the warpipes, and many instances are cited by Grattan Flood where the warpipes were used effectively. In the language of Standish O’Grady: “They were brave men those pipers. The modern military band retires as its regiment goes into action. But the piper went on -before his men and piped them into the thick of the battle. He advanced sounding his battle pibroch, and stood in the ranks of war, while men fell all around him.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Acoustic weaponry or not, like those teenage partiers at my last apartment, the sound of bagpipes is generally enough to upset those who don’t have a predisposition to their particular sonic wavelengths. They’re hardly an LRAD, of course, but these things – when played in concert and syncopation with other pipers – set up a standing wave of sound which can penetrate the din of battle and shake the confidence of an enemy force, who know instantly that the men of the north are approaching with serious intent. Happy St. Pat’s, ya’all.


As anyone who has walked along Princes Street in Edinburgh will know, the sound of bagpipes is enough to make any stroller beat a hasty retreat, which is why the Scots have historically used them to repel their enemies. And long before the Scots had discovered how to make a horrible noise, Joshua was using trumpets to make the walls of Jericho come tumbling down. Throughout history noise has been a powerful weapon but can it really curdle your insides, or make buildings crumble?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


One Response

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  1. I DESPISE bagpipes. When I kick the bucket, I want to be marched off to the Elysian Fields with a New Orleans Mardi Gras band, a German Oompah Band, an Italian Festival band and/or a Klezmer Band. A mambo/merengue ensemble? All five would be nice, but no idiotic bagpipes and their screeching wailing. Get ’em outta here! Only up-beat music for me. If I were Black, German, Italian, Jewish or Hispanic, I’d be pretty upset with this constant Celtic cultural suzereinty in the public square.

    georgetheatheist... tuning up.

    March 18, 2014 at 2:47 pm

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