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The Highland Bagpipe by Gary West

There have never been as many children playing Highland bagpipes in the world as there are right now. Given the deep history of piping -- both in Scotland and beyond -- that is quite a remarkable statement, made all the more remarkable, perhaps, by the myriad other competing interests and electronic gadgetry available for our young people's amusement here in the 21st century. But piping is not only alive and well at the junior level, it is also positively thriving. Why?

There are, no doubt, many answers to that question, but as I sit here pondering what they may be, my mind rewinds over 40 years back to my own early childhood and to one of my very earliest memories. Here I am, standing on the main street of my hometown of Pitlochry, hand-in-hand with my grandfather, positively jumping with excitement as the local pipe band comes into view at the top end of the town. That amazing sound that reverberates off the stone buildings as it passes, the vibrancy of the deep green kilts and shoulder plaids, the gleaming white spats, and -- ah, yes -- those tall, proud feather bonnets billowing in the breeze. I am hooked. And I have been ever since!

And yet the spectacle is never enough, for it has to be backed up with a willingness to invite those wide-eyed (and wide-eared) kids like me into the fold to be taught in the musical art itself. And that is exactly what they did, offering free lessons for many years to me and many like me, to make sure that the town would have a thriving band on into the future. It was that foresight -- that investment -- that was eventually to make the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band one of the best in the world within 20 years of that moment. And that is the way it continues to work in communities up and down the length and breadth of Scotland.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2014 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our column on Piping Hot Glasgow by Jim Gilchrist.

Click here to preview our feature article on Strathpeffer, A Victorian Spa Town by Philip Paris.

Click here to preview our column on Scotland In Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.