Mum stopped work in 1992, so my memory of the bagpipes predates that, and hence how I know I was ten, or younger, and my brother likely eight, or younger. Quite small. But the memory is vivid. I remember where it was, and the tartan, and the kilts, the pipes, and the man with the drums with what looked, to my young mind, like pom pom drumsticks. I was fascinated by the way he swung them – not sticks, but on strings, up and over to beat the drum.
What I remember most, though, is the haunting dirge of the pipes, speaking to my young heart in a way I didn’t understand, but a way that would stay with me for a lifetime. There was something about that unearthly music that cut straight to the soul, and the three of us stood mesmerised by the music for I don’t know how long. It was a sound I have never forgotten, never will forget, and that stirs my blood and conjures images of home.
My mother is Australian, descended from English and Welsh. Perhaps this explains her deep-set dislike of the noise. For her ancestors, the wail of the pipes was not a happy sound.
Since then, I’ve learned the feeling I experienced when I first heard the pipes (and every time I’ve heard them since) is not unique to me. Many people report feeling the same when they hear the pipes, and they all seem to have Scottish heritage. What is it about the bagpipes that speaks to us, even though we’ve never been to Scotland and may never go? Is this something peoples of other cultures experience? And yet the bagpipes seem unique in being almost universally despised by anyone who doesn’t have Scottish blood.
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