Watching the Tour de France, and being a keen cyclist, I can’t help but realize how a bike is a physical extension of the rider. There’s hardly another non-motorized mechanical invention that is so intertwined with the human body as the bicycle. Proper fit, form and function of a bike are everything to the success of the rider.
And so too the Highland bagpipe. I can’t think of another musical instrument that needs to be fitted so finely to the player’s body and preferences. You don’t change the dimensions of a trumpet to suit the length of the player’s arms. You can’t get a piano with smaller keys for a small-sized pianist (keep your snickers to yourself, please). A tuba’s a tuba.
But the Highland pipes are different. The size of bag, the length of blow-stick, the position of the chanter, the aperture of the mouthpiece – all should be altered to fit the player, so that the instrument can be played better. Personal preference and sensible fit are integral to getting the most from the instrument.
You see pipers hunched over their blowpipe all the time, or with their heads cocked to the side, or straining to reach the chanter. Not only does their music (and their listeners) suffer, but they run a greater risk of repetitive strain injury. Like a cyclist with aching knees because the reach to the pedals is too long, that numbness in the hands is more often than not due to the wrist being at an awkward angle because a bag is sized incorrectly.
The Highland pipes are probably the world’s most individualistic instrument. A good piper will seem physically connected to his/her bagpipe and, inevitably, winning the race.
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