March 31, 2002

Doctors in White, Police in Blue, Pipers in Kilts

Highland Dress

As a piper I am more interested in the music and instrument when an exponent is at work. I enjoy listening to the results of hours of homework to get the technique, bagpipe and phrasing to peak.

At a recital I like to admire the antique attire when it suits the piper to wear it. Presentation and the piper feeling comfortable with choice of wear appeals to me.

In my experience the bagpipe can only be truly appreciated by those who attempt to play it. The intricate movements take years to develop while often taking refuge in a pipe band or distant field.

Those who love the sound but have avoided the hard work of learning enjoy the quality of the top instruments and their players but perhaps not know the difficult route taken to achieve the results. So be it.

Other pipers do know and this keeps our club exclusive. We can listen with greater depth should we choose to do so.

The ice with other musicians often breaks when they hear us play musically too. We are trapped inside an octave and that is our lot. However, we have the ability to continually grace our melody notes and this sets us apart from those who cannot.

All the technique in the world is without worth if it is not enhancing music though, which of course should be the end result.

“If you can’t hit them in the ears, hit them in the eyes,” an old Pipe-Major I once knew used to say.

The enthusiasts do thrill to see the piper in full Highland dress. Wedding photographs just wouldn’t be the same nor would carnival processions. Would piping competitions though?

I enjoy looking at the old pictures of Willie Ross, G.S. McLennan and others in their days at the games. The lived in costumes with real jewellery on shoulder, hip and kilt. Braw. But others in plus fours also look in place. Variety giving spice I guess.

It is up to competition organisers whether or not Highland dress forms part of their requirements. Highland gatherings could lose spectacle and indoor events their prestige and serious intent, I believe, should competitors be allowed to compete in other than the dress of the country that gave birth to the instrument.

It is annoying sometimes not to be appreciated only for our music, but, when on duty, doctors in white, police in blue, pipers in kilts.

Roger Huth lives in London, England, and was a Pipe-Major with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards for many years. He has won numerous solo piping awards, and is convener of the Scottish Pipers Society of London’s annual competitions.


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