Five years ago, my dissertation “Die Stimme des Windes” was published as a book by a German publishing company focusing on Linguistics. As my academic field is that of languages and my private interest that for bagpipes, I was lucky to be able to combine those two and thereby create a thorough study of the history of bagpipes from the perspective of language.
My thinking was: If no early specimens of bagpipes survive and iconography fails us, language is the only thing we can turn to on our quest for answers.
More than with most instruments, the history of bagpipes is one of legends, myths and sometimes conjecture. The long-lasting negligence of the instrument by academics lead to a number of popular researchers pursuing their quest for answers; though many have accomplished an admirable task, the lack of academic background in the last group and the lack of hands-on knowledge in the former has impeded the development of a good academic tradition of bagpipe research. I did not write “Die Stimme des Windes” as a geeky remedy to all that, but as a humble proposal of how things could be addressed academically without getting detached from the audience. For if no one reads the book, what good is it to waste the paper?
As German is my mother tongue, I chose to write it in that language, with some nebulous hopes of translating it someday. As my son was born that very same year, I soon had other things in mind. Then, in the fall of 2017, I was made aware of a rather favourable review of my book by Arle Lommel, an American linguist. In his review, Mr Lommel said, “If and when it appears in English, it is a book that will deserve a wider audience among English-speaking folklorists than its subject matter might suggest.” Another 18 months later, my ensemble “Unisonus” was invited to come to Polesworth and play at the Blowout; at the end of this festival, after I had given a talk on the subject of my book, I had got acquainted with a lovely band of people who all agreed to help me with getting the English version on the way. The Bagpipe Society has proven most generous and kind in this matter ever since, and indeed I would not have been able to come this far without their help. As translation is getting finished soon, I am now able to announce that the English version is finally on the way: By the beginning of summer, “The Voice of the Wind – A Linguistic History of Bagpipes” will be available on online sale platforms, as print-on-demand, as a tablet version, or directly through me.
The content of the book basically is a journey through all those myths, legends, and assumptions I mentioned above. However, it is a journey not only from a musicological perspective, but – as the title reveals – from the perspective of language and etymology. Was it really the Romans who spread bagpipes all over Europe with their armies? Did they call it ‘tibia utricularis’? Did the Greek playwright Aristophanes really mention a bagpipe made from a dog’s behind? Are bagpipes really mentioned in the Bible? Were the terms ‘gaita’ and ‘gaida’ really crafted by bagpiping Goths?
Language is the key to answering those questions and to countering the myths, replacing them with facts or – at least – well-crafted theories and substantial proposals. It shows us the reality that speaks from the dim and scarce sources of old, and in some instances reveals a far more intriguing picture than that of a Roman-based monogenesis of piping. What if bagpipes had indeed been around for quite a long time, but existed in a different paradigm of instrument classification? One that simply did not view them as more than a pipe played with a bag instead of the player’s mouth? What if the concept of a drone pipe, which surely is one of the most recognizable features of the bagpipe today (at least in Europe) actually originated from Moorish influence?
“The Voice of the Wind” does not aim to correct every sentence that has hitherto been written about bagpipes. Far from it, in fact. Rather, I chose to carefully examine some of the things that many of us pipers, including myself, believe to know or to have known about this instrument. With this, I hope to shed some new light on old questions, and maybe answer a few.
Editor’s Note: An update on the publication and how to purchase a copy will be notified via the Bagpipe Society Facebook page and in Chanter