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The History of Bagpipes

GHS’ fight song, “Scotland the Brave,” has a deeper underlying meaning than just school spirit. Strong cultural aspects and natural pride had been stripped away from Scotland throughout it’s history, leaving tunes such as “Scotland the Brave” to maintain lifestyles and customs.

Bagpipes have been refined and adjusted countless times throughout a multitude of centuries. Despite the common belief, the very first bagpipe is said to have originated in Ancient Egypt, not in Scotland. It was during the 1400s that Roman infantry brought bagpipes and its culture to the highlands; with it, followed a new nationalistic pride.


The fight to freedom and individuality in Scotland was heavily affected by traditional tunes and uniforms. Bagpipe Highlanders played alongside troops marching into battle. This gesture, and the music they played, symbolized a deep appreciation for their country and their soldiers.


Unfortunately in 1745, the Jacobite Rebellion emerged causing England to attempt to claim Scotland as their own. England eventually passed the Act of Proscription in 1746 upon succession. This act banned bagpipes from being used, owned, or even seen with. As a result, England considered bagpipes both an instrument and weapon of war during the time period.


Further stripping away Scottish culture was the Dress Act of 1746, originally ordained under the Act of Proscription. The Dress Act essentially banned traditional Highland dress because it was thought of as an official military uniform. Modern pipe band uniforms evolved from this traditional dress that was used as sleeping bags, blankets, self defense, and a badge of honor.


The kilt as people know it today was derived from what used to be known as the belted plaid. In the earlier centuries, the kilt was made up of a sheet of wool fabric about four yards long. The fabric would be hand dyed, sewn, and then Highlanders would individually pleat them. Only a belt held up the entire kilt, earning it the name “belted plaid.”


Overtop the kilt, a tartan sash would be wrapped around the torso of a piper which was expected to double as a blanket and protection against Scottish climate. As for militaristic protection, bagpipers were given a sgian dubh. This was a small weapon that went in their sock but was only to be used for self defense and hunting small animals.


Industrial advances have made modern uniforms more functional and easily accessible for today’s pipe bands. At GHS, the pleating on a piper’s kilt is sewn in and buckles are binded into it giving the kilt more support than a singular belt. Plaids often can still be used as a form of blanket but mostly pertain towards pride for the Highlands.


“Scotland the Brave,” GHS’ fight song, was composed around the year 1911. The purpose of the song was to celebrate being Scottish, fighting with compelling bravery, and to embrace individuality. However, the tune didn’t become popular until the 1950s when a patriotic chorus was written towards the tune for theatrical purposes. Since then, “Scotland the Brave” has become what is commonly referred to as the unofficial national anthem of Scotland and an anthem of GHS culture.

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