The Royal Scots Cap Badge


A History of Piobaireachd, Part 3

Before going on to describe what a piobaireachd is and how it is made, I shall say a few words about the other classes of pipe music which arise at the present day.

There are:

  • Quick Marches - played for drilled troops to march to, either with or without the drums.
  • More elaborate marches which are not played quick enough for regimental marching, but which are played for competition or for exhibition of a piper's ability.
  • Slow Airs, played sometimes by bands at military displays and often by individuals at concerts and the like, and are very suitable music for beginners.
  • Strathspeys.
  • Reels.
  • Jigs.

What are the histories of these several classes of music?


Quick Marches.

In 1760 we have Joseph MacDonald saying that the only kind of music fit to be played on the Highland bagpipe is music composed specially for it, and that other music borrowed from other instruments is quite unsuited to it. In 1780 we have the Highland Society starting a long series of competitions in piobaireachd only. According to Joseph MacDonald the only music made for the Highland pipe which was in existence in 1760 was piobaireachd, reels and jigs. The Highland regiments were being raised at the time Joseph MacDonald wrote. The first raised was the 42nd now the 1st Bn. The Black Watch in 1740. The last of these regiments now surviving was the 93rd now the 2nd Bn. A & SH which was raised in 1800. It is pretty clear that there were no pipe bands in Highland Regiments playing quick marches in 1760 when Joseph MacDonald wrote and it is exceedingly doubtful whether there was any quick march music in existence when the Highland Society started their competitions in 1750.


Our present Quick Marches include several tunes adopted from songs and from the music of other instruments (for example) Highland Laddie, Killiecrankie, Bonnie Dundee, etc., which Jos. MacDonald considered an improper use of the Highland pipe. We have no marching tunes called after any battles before Waterloo in 1815 or indeed before the Crimean more than 40 years later. We hear stories about Pipers playing in the Peninsula War and at Waterloo, but the tunes mentioned are piobaireachds such as cogadh no sidh or the Cameron's Gathering. Major MacKay Scobie, a historian of the Seaforth Highlanders, states positively in an article written for the Regimental magazine Caber Feidh that pipers were not officially recognized by the War Office until 1854 and that before that date the regiments had pipe and drum bands with Company Pipers, who usually played individually in barracks or in camp, and very seldom if ever in concert. Their music was mainly piobaireachd.


In 1854 pipes were abolished, the Drums and Pipes were put together and pipe bands were started. The marching tunes in my young days were habitually called by Highland musicians Quick-steps, a name adopted no doubt to distinguish them from piobaireachds called Marches, and a name which itself furnishes evidence of their modern origin. All this points to the probability of quick-steps having been first played on the Highland pipe comparatively lately, perhaps not much longer than 100 years. When the need for them arose we may conjecture that some of the regimental quick-steps were adapted from Scottish Songs, some were composed then and there by pipers and a good many, perhaps, of the 6/8 tunes were obtained by taking pipe jigs and playing them slowly. Such tunes as the Braes of Glenorchy and The Campbells are Coming were probably jigs to start with.


It is doubtful I think whether any quick-steps were taken directly from piobaireachd although I shall show presently that the method of arranging them in two parts, each played twice with a finish, or in three parts, was very likely borrowed from piobaireachd. I do not think the quick-step Pibroch of Domnuil Dubh was taken from the piobaireachd in spite of the tradition that Sir Walter Scott got the air for his song from a translation from the Cantaireachd by Capt. Neil MacLeod of Gesto. I think it more likely that the piobaireachd and the song air from which come the quick-step were made up independently from a far older air to which words were sung perhaps by the old harpers. If I am right then our present day marching tunes are a later-developed kind of pipe music, made up from various sources, some borrowed from songs, some adapted from jigs, and some specially composed for the pipes within the last 100 years.


| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 |


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