Bagpipes have been played since antiquity, probably originated in the middle east, and were traditionally found across all of Europe, North Africa, the Levant and as far east as Rajasthan. The entrenched association of bagpipes with Scotland is just one more unfortunate legacy of empire. The British Army took marching pipe bands to the colonies, and there they stayed, such that the Great Highland Bagpipe is the most popular bagpipe in the world. But at the last count there were 132 different types of bagpipe, each with its own music, musical culture, style of playing, method of construction and so on. The instrument really is part of our shared cultural heritage.
In England, bagpipes were a completely normal part of popular music making throughout the Middle Ages and certainly into the Renaissance. I suspect their demise had much to do with the cultural revolution, and the forced demise of Merry England, that accompanied the Reformation. Boo, and indeed, hiss.
But they're coming back and here in Oxford I've been organising an event at the Pitt Rivers Museum on Saturday March 9th to celebrate IBD. Apart from being one of the weirdest and most wonderful ethnographic museums in the western world, the Pitt Rivers also has one of the best collections of bagpipes in the country.
There's going to be demonstrations of English Border pipes, English double-chantered pipes, Northumbrian smallpipes, Lowland pipes, Galician gaita, Mallorcan bagpipes, Swedish bagpipes and bagpipes of the East. There are talks on how to make a bagpipe, on the history of bagpipes in England, on a mystery 17th century bagpipe, and more besides. There'll be storytelling and also a maker's fair, so you can try or buy an instrument.
What's more it's free, so if you're short of something to do, why not pop in? It runs from 10am till 4pm.