October 24, 2014

Hatred unwelcome

The Highland pipes draw attention. The volume and distinct sound of the instrument – especially when played poorly – get a reaction from people, so pipers are often seen in protests and parades.

Pipers who work their entire lives to be the best musicians they can be are invariably annoyed when “pipers,” who only want to be a spectacle by making as much kilty-noise as possible, go out and give the musical instrument and all of those who strive to be excellent musicians a bad rap.

It’s disturbing that things Celtic often seem to attract a certain racist element. Skinheads donning “utilikilts” and Celtic knot tattoos often add a noisy “piper” to the mix.

It makes my skin crawl.

The latest is a racist in Oregon who happens to use the Highland pipes to draw attention to his disgusting views and spitting vitriol. His MO seems to be to use Highland wear and the pipes to stand out from other hate-mongers, and, evidenced by the media attention he’s receiving, it seems to be working. (If you must investigate, you’re on your own – I won’t promote him any more than necessary here.)

Someone in the musical world of Highland piping needs to say it:

This hatred has absolutely no place in the culture of true pipers and drummers.

The world’s pipers and drummers are utterly and completely inclusive of all race, economic status, religion, sexual orientation and political belief. If you meet one who does not subscribe to inclusivity, kindly tell them to do us all a favour, take up the triangle and go away.

Real pipers and drummers enjoy and nurture the common bond that our music creates. We are colour-blind and completely tolerant – uninterested, actually – in what our fellow pipers and drummers believe, unless, of course, it is a “piper” or “drummer” who refuses to be part of that ethic. The only people we exclude are those who are not inclusive in their thinking.

Real pipers and drummers reject intolerance and racism. Those who embrace those things are not welcome.


  1. I wish I could say it were true, but it’s also a fact that in the ten years I’ve been with with my wife, born overseas, I’ve never been able to bring her along to a pipe band event without someone asking her questions like “Have you tried monkey brains?” or “How much did you cost?” (both actual questions, and not unusual), never mind comments on her country’s sexual stereotypes.

    I can’t speak for North America but it’s patently obvious that in Scotland the piping scene is a lot whiter than the population. Now there’s an element of who you know that gets you into piping – so no-one would expect that proportion to be equal – but the difference is so stark it’s telling.

    1. I have to agree with you. Here in the states, in a predominantly Hispanic area, I took my Hispanic husband to a Highland event and I couldn’t believe the racism there. As pure polly white as could be. He was THE only person that wasn’t pasty white there and we were snubbed everywhere we went. We haven’t been back.

  2. That really is shameful and a disgrace on the Scottish piping community. We have very long way to go before passive (or active) racism/sexism (and a number of other -isms) are eradicated in Scottish society but there are other things we could be doing in the meantime.

  3. From my view I agree. I tell my daughters, who are Scotish-Irish-Asian-Americans, that they can always find friends no matter where they go if they bring their pipes.

    At every piping event we have been to the questions are always focused on their age and gender. People love to see young ladies piping and they have been treated well everywhere. It may help that they have a band of over protective male pipers & drummers standing behind them, but only a little.

  4. I think we’re actually pretty lucky, in some respects.
    If you look at footage from the massive Ku Klux Klan rally in Washington DC in 1925, there’s a pipe band leading the parade/procession. I’ve seen documentaries on various Klan chapters, and several of them use a recording of a pipe band playing Amazing Grace during their ritual cross burnings as the origins of the symbolism were taken, and clearly warped from the Scottish lore of the ‘fiery cross’. There was a time back in the 90s, that several pipe bands were reporting being hired by groups referring to themselves as “European cultural groups”. Like most pipe bands, the promise of a $1000 or what have you is a very appealing gig. Then, upon arrival, they discover that these groups are either thinly…or not so thinly veiled, Nazi-esque hate groups. At the time, it was shockingly widespread catching up several pipe bands, Irish dance groups and the like. So widespread and the efforts at hiding their purpose were so similar that there was clearly some horrifying cross-continent coordination. I even contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center (seemed like the best choice at the time) to alert them of this and see if they wanted to help get word out to he bands via the pipe band associations. No response from them.

    Yet, despite all this, we as ‘real pipers and drummers’ are most often welcomed to play in public and as far as I can tell about 99.9999% of the population is unaware of these unwanted tenuous connections pipes have to people filled with hate. Not sure how to combat it, other than to be “so cool” (I know, hard to do in a kilt) and such good musicians that we start attracting participants beyond traditionally attracting those who feel a cultural connection to the instrument. For me, with little to no Scots ancestry, it was all about the Scottie dog who played them in a Richard Scarry book (now no longer in print due to cultural inconsiderateness). Always thought he was cool. Oh, and they sounded really cool when they came and played at my church. Fortunately my first live experience was a good one with our Blogpipe and pd.com publisher was one of those who was playing.

  5. I don’t think this is a correct assessment at all. You equally glob all types of people and make them fit your particular perspective of universal tolerance and anti-racism. While these traits benefit no one, it has no bearing on how good a musician someone may be.

  6. I have to say that at least here in Colorado, the piping community seems very welcoming and very inclusive. I have not seen a bias towards what you’re describing here. In fact, if anything, it’s been the opposite. I’m sure there are people here that hold sentiments similar to what you describe here, but they must be keeping it close to their chests.

  7. It saddens me to see such racism throughout the piping community world wide. I am an Australian and can only speak for my small corner of the world but I have not witnessed any such racism down here. I am not saying Australia is not a racist country as we have our issues like many others, but the piping and drumming community seems to be able to look past that. Speaking for our local competitions in Queensland and New South Wales, there are black Pipe Majors, Indian pipers and drummers that are allowed to wear their Turban instead of a Glenngarry. The band I play for is half same sex with partners either playing in the band or closely affiliated and has fostered talent in foreign students for many years.

    It is a real shame that so many of the pipers and drummers in the world are being segregated for various reasons that should not have any influence in todays society but my experience has not been so. I have experienced the inclusive side of the Pipe Band community for which I consider myself very lucky.

  8. Honestly, this is the first I’ve heard of this. That’s very unfortunate (and INCREDIBLY rare) that you would see this coming out of a state famous for it’s inclusiveness (see Portland). I live in Oregon, and would have thought that this would be something I would heard of.

    Regardless, it’s despicable.

    On your broader point of bad pipers getting the attention, it annoys us all, to be sure (pipers and drummers). Honestly, how is the layman supposed to relate to an explanation as to what you do, when all they ever hear are bad pipers/pipe bands playing in parades and demonstrations!?!
    Well written article. I hope that this occurrence is not a trend, but an isolated incident.

  9. In every country, movement, past time, you will find racism. Where there are people, there is discrimination and cruelty. It is merely a question of percentages. Fact. I think it is noble to sound out the ferals who use our instrument to promote hatred and bile. They can get stuffed! But we shouldn’t generalise about how inclusive we are and put ourselves on a pedestal either. I’ve seen and heard unspeakable things in beer tents and other post-contest gatherings, then those same people do wonderfully kind and generous things in daylight. Go figure. Welcome to planet earth.

  10. Intolerance, hatred, prejudice of many shapes and forms exist in piping and drumming just like society in general. It should not. It is the hidden underbelly of jokes about people that are snickered at, innuendo that is laughed at, etc because it’s “funny”. The kid who is stared at at highland games because their skin colour is different, or their surname is different. The person who is whispered about or shunned because of some perceived differences from others. Go to any piping, drumming, or pipeband club event, beer tent etc. Stand in the back anonymously and watch and listen quietly to what goes on during a series of these events. Go onto any pipeband discussion group and see the volume of racial slurs that get put up about products from other countries. Lot’s of “isms’ and “phobias” in our culture that should e eradicated.



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