January 25, 2021
Away from the MILITARY music and jaunty reels of Burns Night, pibroch explores the hypnotic drone of the bagpipes – a style so powerful it can induce a trance state
Its quite primal: the blissed-out bagpipes of pibroch
According to seasoned bagpiper John Mulhearn, one of the best compliments you can get is that someone in the audience nodded off. Anyone who has experienced the bagpipes at close (or even at really quite distant) quarters will know that this phenomenon is not down to the instrument’s gentle character. Nor is it that audiences are being bored into stupefied submission, in spite of the shortbread-tins-and-military-tattoos image.
No: it’s more a blissed-out trance that Mulhearn – head of studies at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow – is referring to. And he’s clear that only a very particular type of bagpipe music can cause it: pibroch, a slow, extended style with a melodic theme that the player develops and embellishes over the insistent, harmonising throb of the pipes’ drones. It uses every last shred of the instrument’s potential to occupy your brain. Michelangelo said he carved angels out of marble to set them free; in the same way, pibroch inhabits the bagpipes and must be drawn with unhurried skill into the open.
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