Music of the great highland bagpipes

Published June 26, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin



Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid
Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

What caught my attention on my Facebook page last week which also happened to be Father’s Day, was a post showing a piper in his full kilt attire during the Independence Day celebration at the Philippine Embassy at the United Kingdom. Joe McDonald’s beautiful rendition of our national anthem reminded me of my husband, Andrew, a Scottish, who for several years during the 80s and 90’s, was the official bagpiper, in addition to being the vice-chief of the local St. Andrew’s society in Manila. He would usher in the haggis, the Scottish national dish consisting of minced liver, hear, lungs of sheep with beef or glutton suet and oatmeal seasoned with onions, cayenne pepper and other spices. Mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. This is brought in with the best Scotch whisky during the annual St. Andrew’s Night. Bagpipe music together with exchange of banter between the Scots and the English, and of course reading of the poetry of this well-loved Scottish bard, are regular features of Burn’s night celebrations held every January. In addition to these events, some that we recall with pride and great pleasure include his playing the bagpipes, as a representative of the UK, at an International Night featuring most countries of the world. President Cory, who was the honored guest was so impressed or intrigued with his playing and did proffer a comment or two. Then there was the centenary of the Scottish Society where he produced, together with the production staff of a local TV station, a one-hour musical featuring Scottish and bagpipe music for the Concert at the Park hosted by Tina Palma.

He was the only piper in the country so you can imagine how popular he was. Requests for him to play at weddings, funerals, even regattas came one after another that at some point, I had to ask them to make out a check for our favorite charities. That then slowed down the demand and he was able to give more time to writing poetry and essays which he enjoyed after his stint with the UN as a cooperatives specialist.

Sometime ago, I wrote something about bagpipes since it is a unique instrument in the country. During his time, he was the only piper. We became friends with the late Billy Esposo who introduced Roy Macgregor Esposo Espirtu, his nephew, who is now the only Filipino piper in the country. Andy mentored Roy a few times, and now, Roy had taken his place doing the same thing.

Filipinos are very talented musicians who are much appreciated all over the world. There is a growing appreciation for our traditional instruments such as nose flute and those made of bamboo or metal.

According to Andrew, who has been playing the bagpipes since he was 13 years old, one has to start playing the bagpipes while at a young age. Those who are interested to learn can enroll in online courses. It may sound so easy but one must have a strong willpower to sustain the tutorial especially since it requires strong lung power. Thus, one cannot start with the Philippine National Anthem but with easier ones such as Scotland the Brave, or Amazing Grace, or Auld Lang Syne. My son wants to keep it but neither his sons or my stepchildren or their children are interested in learning to play.

Andrew’s bagpipes pipes (an antique, and over 110 years old and handed down to him by an ancestor while a child in Scotland) may therefore remain in storage or on display. The main feature of the bagpipe is the chanter reed made of two tightly woven bamboo slivers which is hidden inside the pipes between the bag and the chanter. Air is pushed from the bag through the reed, producing the sound from the chanter notes. The chanter is the part of the pipes that actually produce melody notes. Bagpipes ae made from the skin of a small goat or sheep with the natural openings in the skin for the legs being used to attach the pipes. Leather pigskin and synthetic materials are also used to make the bags.

Andrew was such a stickler about reeds. While many pipers had replaced them with plastic reeds), he continued to seek for bamboo reeds which are not readily available. He compares the fidelity of the bamboo with that of the vinyl records (which are now making a comeback) and the modern plastic reeds with the CDs or DVDs or digital recordings. The difference is that between analog (original) and digital recordings which are snapshots of the CDs and do not capture the complete sound wave.

While Andrew has had difficulty with hearing during his later years, he was still able to distinguish between music generated by his bagpipes with bamboo reeds and the modern ones and between vinyl recordings with the current DVDs. When our old recorder broke down, I had to go hunting for a replacement and finally found one but even though it still captured the fidelity of the original recording, he thought it was not quite the same as the old broken recorder. So, I had to put it into storage and finally resurrected it when I moved to my new condo. It is now partof some antique pieces I had collected and my millennial grandnieces thought it was “cool.”. So with the old 30 or some 33[/2 rpm vinyls I had saved from over 500 in my old collection. I gave most of the latter away – classics and broadway, and regretted the decision as there now appears to be a growing interest in retro art and music.

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