Post Modern Bagpipes: Authenticity and Creativity in Cornish Music
Paper given to Cornish Music Symposium hosted by Institute of Cornish Studies at Penryn Campus, 2012
A key issue for this symposium and the recognition of Cornish Music as a legitimate area of study within “Cornish Studies” is the distinction between ‘Music in Cornwall’ and ‘Cornish Music’. The challenge here is to understand the construction of ‘Cornishness’ and ‘Authenticity’, a discussion which takes us away from the comfortable domain of empiricism through chaos of the relativistic “post modern” world to the more critical subjectivity of ‘authentic to whom, when and for what purpose’. The story of the origins, reconstruction and revival of Cornish Bagpipes offers an opportunity to explore these issues within a succinct and narrowly defined area and reflect on the implications for Cornish Music in a wider perspective.
Brief introduction to bagpipes
As the name suggests, bagpipes consist of a series of pipes with reeds attached to one end, which are inserted into a bag and air pressure applied to the reeds by inflating the bag. A typical arrangement is for one of these pipes (the chanter) to have finger holes in order to provide a melody line and for the other / others (drones) to remain un-fingered in order to provide a single note accompaniment. The acoustic dynamics of the bagpipes will depend upon the bore of the chanter, a conical shape will give a richer louder sound whereas a cylindrical bore will provide a quieter more mellow sound. The pitch of the drone in relation to the chanter scale further qualifies the tonal dynamics of the bagpipes and to a lesser extent so will the number of drones employed.
These structural features allow for almost infinite variety in bagpipes especially when you enter into the realms of leaving decorative body parts such as goats’ heads attached to the bag when a set is made. Leaving aside the problems of defining regionality and tradition for the moment, there are 5 different types of bagpipes in extant tradition in Britain and Ireland and three in Brittany. Elsewhere in Europe the variety is endless with the instrument being featured in such major festivals as that of Chartreuse, France and a whole folk music culture centred on the Gaita in Galicia and Asturies in Northern Spain.
Historical Provenance Bagpipes In Cornwall
Examples of references illustrating the historical provenance of bagpipes in Cornwall can be portrayed by means of a time line:
12th C Vocabularium Cornicum 
1296 Earldom Accounts Henri the pipere of Trigg: wife Joan paid a fine of 2s 6d.1
14th C Miracle play – Origo Mundi 
1416 / 33 Record of Lord Botreaux’s pipers 
1462 Lanceston Parish Records
1477 Launceston Parish Records
- Gargoyle on Tower of St Austell Church
1504 Miracle Play – Beunans Meriasek
1515 Carvings on the East wall of St Marys Church Launceston
1520 Bench End Carving in Altarnon Church
1536 /7 Lostwithiel Guild Riding Accounts
16th C Pilgrims badge on Bench end at Braddock Church
1550 Churchwarden’s Accounts
1571 St Ives Borough Accounts
1600 Bench End Carving of piper in Davidstow Church
1611 Miracle Play – Gwreans an Bys
1683 Shepherds accounts
1698 Miracle Play – Gwreans an Bys
- Archeologica Britannica – Edward Lluyd
1713 Thomas the Piper and His man – Bilbao Cornish Ms
1754 Antiquities of Cornwall – Willam Borlase 
1790 Archeologica Cornu-Britannicum , William Pryce
The written references seem to observe a typically Celtic convention of referring to pipers and pipes rather than bagpipers and bagpipes We do not, of course, know whether “piper” necessary means “bagpiper” or indeed if the difference was perceived as important during the time of the mystery plays. The context of the pipers in terms of playing for dancing and for outdoor processions, however, implies a volume more consistent with reed instruments than the flutes or recorders available at the time. Similarly a single musician is more likely to have been a bagpiper than a horn or shaum player given the ability to play for sustained periods together with the fuller sound achieved with drones.
Caution has to be exercised in presuming to much of the bench end and church carving images of bagpipes and the pig playing the pipes at Braddock Church is certainly identical to a pilgrims badge popular throughout medieval Europe. Although there is a 40 year gap in the records it is a reasonable assumption that the carvings on the east wall of St Mary’s Church Launceston depict actual musicians or those remembered from the time of the parish records
It is interesting to consider what, if any, the significance of the references to pipes and pipers in the Cornish vocabularies is. The Vocabularium Cornicum was a device to aid instruction in Latin so that to use terms such pipers, horner and fiddlers suggests an expectation of some familiarity. Over the 600 year period between the Cornish / Latin of the Vocabularium Cornicum and the 18th Century vocabularies, meanings and vernacular use are likely to have varied enormously but their mention in relatively small compilations seems unwitting testimony to their cultural significance. Certainly their cultural significance as perceived by the users of the language, the people who remembered the language or those who recorded it.
As far as a bagpipe culture in Cornwall is concerned Mike O’Connor points out in “Altarnun Revisited”:
“ ……in Cornwall the iconography and documentary evidence increasingly support the existence of a medieval piping tradition, one that quite probably included twin chanter bagpipes ….. in 260 years the community had every opportunity to evolve a sense of ownership of this element of musical culture.
In terms of authenticity, then, this provenance justifies the argument that bagpipes had a role in Cornwall’s musical history and certainly makes it unsafe to deny that there was ever such an instrument in use in Cornwall.
Post Modern Bagpipes : Bagpipes have some interesting post-modern features!
In the first instance, possibly courtesy of the intransigent drone note, bagpipes are difficult to fit into the Musical Orthodoxy of the Western Elite and so there is an immediate creation of the music of the ”other”, the ”ethnic”, the “comic Breugalesque”, despite being but a slight variant of the oboe family in terms of acoustic science. The bagpipe is constructed as the instrument of the uncultured peasant not refined society.
In a second and largely Celto – British context, bagpipes were adopted into the iconography of post Ossianic Scottish identity along with kilts and tartans with the result that bagpipism became an expression of English / Scottish antipathy and almost a duty for those south of the border. This, in defiance of historical record of bagpipe usage throughout Britain and the origins of the ‘Piob Mhor’ (gaelic: great pipes) in the Gaelic communities of Ireland and the Western Isles rather than modern Scotland as a whole. The proximity of the pronunciation of ‘Mhor’ to ‘War’ was clearly a gift when it came to English denouncement of Bagpipes as an instrument of war rather than music.
It is a short step from Bagpipes being an icon of Scottish identity to becoming an icon of Celtic identity in general and this is no better illustrated than in the figure of self styled Irish Piper Eamon, Ceant, circa 1915, displayed in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, resplendent in Neo-Celtic pipers garb based on a 16th Century engraving of Irish pipers. Ceant was an Irish Nationalist and also part of the Celtic revival movement that had evolved out of 19th Century romanticism around national identity.
The emergence of the Boadeg Ar Sonneurs (Breton Bagpipe Association) following a meeting of the last few traditional pipers in the 1940s led to the symbolic association of bagpipes with Breton identity and the establishment of the Bagad in Brittany, the village or town pipe band much like the pipe bands of Scotland. The massive Celtic Festival held in L’Orient each August evolved out of what was originally a bagpipe festival and continues to feature massed pipe bands from Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Galicia and Asturies. Whatever the case made by Hobsbawm et al for the invention of Celtic traditions in Scotland and Ireland the reality is that in L’Orient each August several thousand pipers and their audiences share an experience of Celtic identity focussed around the use of bagpipes.
The Celtic Congress was an early manifestation of this Celtic revival movement and Cornwall become a member in 1904 following the presentation of Jenner’s paper “Cornwall: A Celtic Nation”. The subsequent adoption of Celtic iconography in Cornwall is a matter of record and the assimilation of bagpipes into this package was encouraged by the existence of the bench end carvings of pipers and also reference to pipers in the Cornish Miracle plays. When the idea of reconstructing a set of Cornish bagpipes was first mooted in the 1980s it was found that there was already a widespread mythology presuming the existence of “Cornish Bagpipes”.
I had a run in with post modernism myself a few years ago. I used to feel that the “historical authenticity” of the bagpipes in Cornwall made them quite distinct from the “contrived authenticity” of the Cornish National Tartan and resisted portrayal of the two together as being bit kitsch and over the top. A lost cause as I can illustrate anecdotally:
“ Can I book you for my daughters wedding” … “Delighted – I normally do authentic Tudor costume for bagpipes based on the bench ends at Altarnon” “Yes but this is a Cornish Wedding, we are all wearing Cornish tartan and I want a Cornish piper in a kilt, how much do you charge ………..”
This lost cause was further compounded by the Western Morning News use of an image of myself resplendent in Cornish Kilt and playing my pipes to mark a series of articles on Cornish devolution a few years ago.
Practical Reality – authenticity in reconstruction of Cornish bagpipes
Having established the principle of bagpipe use in Cornwall historically and accepted that whilst there is currently no evidence for continuity of usage after the end of the 17th century there is a popular belief in the notion of Cornish pipes, how do we make set about an authentic reconstruction. There are two routes that can be followed here, either borrowing from the Celtic revival elsewhere or using historical information to reconstruct an instrument from scratch.
The conical bore bagpipes to be found in folk tradition along the Atlantic arc formed by the Western Isles, Ireland, Brittany and the provinces of Galicia and Asturies in Northern Spain are a very closely related family of musical instruments, the difference in sound being defined more by style of playing than physical structure. The number of drones and the wood colour do make for some visual distinction but the three drone Asturian gaita made in blackwood for example, are quite hard to distinguish from the great pipes at a distance. The Great pipes are so close to the Breton Veuze that the former has to a large extent replaced the latter in the Breton Bagadou. The Welsh pipes reconstructed by John Tose for example, are based on the Veuze and it seems quite legitimate for the Cornish piper to follow suite with, either the Veuze, which is closest geographically, the Gaita, which is relatively easy to play or the Great Pipes, which do have the biggest sound!
The other route to authenticity is to reconstruct the instrument as closely as possible to the original and excluding the Braddock church image as a pilgrims badge we can analyse the features available to us as follows:
- Historical records suggest a louder, therefore conical bore instrument.
- The carving at St Marys Church, Launceston, is a single chanter, like the bagpipes of the other Celtic regions described above but there is no evidence of a drone. The carving is badly eroded, however, and set as a silhouette in one dimension.
- The St Austell gargoyle and Davidstow bench end depict bagpipes with equal length double chanters and a single drone.
- The piper depicted at Altarnon has chanters of unequal length, the imagination has to be stretched to identify a drone but the detail of the chanters and finger holes is good.
It can be seen that this range of characteristics provides for considerable creative opportunity on the one hand but great difficulty in identifying a single authentic version on the other. The Altarnon version does, however, provide the most detail and as we have seen above, is the most likely to be representative of an actual person or event. Furthermore, the added value for Cornish identity and distinctiveness lies in the relative rarity of double chantered pipes of unequal length compared to those of equal length.
It is in fact the two pipe makers who have reconstructed Cornish pipes used the Altarnon pipes that as a basis for their design:
Chris Bayley’s pipes are configured with a single drone in G;
Right Hand Chanter D,E,F#,G;
Left Hand Chanter G,A,B,C#,D;
with an opportunity for some cross fingering for flattened notes.
Chris has approximately 50 Cornish pipes in circulation world wide at the time of writing.
Julian Goodacre’s pipes do not have a separate drone but the configuration of the chanters provides for an effective drone in D:
Right Hand Chanter D,E,F#,G,A;
Left Hand Chanter D, A,B, C#, D;
again with some opportunity for cross fingering for flattened notes.
Julian has approximately 100 pipes in circulation world wide at the time of writing.
Just to hark back to the post modern – Chris and Julian both describe their pipes as “Cornish” and by promoting public awareness of double chantered Cornish pipes among enthusiasts have contributed to the increasing convention of identifying any double chantered pipes as “Cornish”.
Practical reality – authenticity in reconstructing a bagpipe culture
Scottish, Irish, Breton and Galician bagpipe cultures tend to use a variety of pipes and in practice this is what happens in Cornwall with the Altarnon pipes, Gaita, Veuze and Great pipes all making an appearance. Effectively it is the piper who becomes Cornish rather than the physical nature of the pipes and authenticity is derived from context rather than the material construction of the pipes.
The other defining practicality is the context in which bagpipes are used and what music is played on them. Playing pipes to rally supporters for a Cornish Team at the Rugby finals in Twickenham might be one example of a context that is Cornish, extensive use of pipers across Cornwall to celebrate St Pirans Day might be another. Then there is growing tradition of Cornish pipers for weddings and “piper-grammes for the special event”………
This symposium explores Cornish music as the product of a variety influences from the Celtic speaking world of medieval Cornwall at the centre of Irish, Welsh and Breton trading routes to the village bands of the 19th Century Methodist Sunday School Treats . The primary archival sources are those from the early collectors such as Baring Gould, Gardiner and Carpenter and more recently discovered local manuscripts. A significant amount of music has remained within oral tradition, however, and a number of tunes are also linked to Cornish step dancing. All of which, together with a burgeoning number of new compositions within a consciously Cornish idiom provides a rich source for developing a repertoire of bagpipe tunes.
In Summary, when considering authenticity and “Cornish Bagpipes” a whole raft of interdependent factors emerge ranging from historical provenance, perception and interpretation to the practicalities of construction, performance context and the nature of the music actually played on the pipes.
Post ScriptThe 200 year interregnum between the last written record and the Celtic revivalists does not mean that pipers had entirely disappeared from Cornish consciousness and folklore is rich in reference that reflects the “other” such as the demon piper who entices young maidens to dance on the Sabbath and suffer petrification as a result. There are place name references such as the intriguing Pyba rock in Gerrans bay. We also gain a first hint of the Celtic revivalists in a reference in an antiquarian magazine to the piper who played a lament at the defeat of the Cornish by Athelstan in 847
Although the bench end carvings fed the revivalist notion of Cornish pipes and were apparently one of the inspirations for the invention of the Cornish Tartan Kilt by E Morton Nance in the 60s the timeline of the Cornish pipes commences again in earnest in 1977:
1977 Tony Snell of “Tremenysy” introduced the idea that Cornish Pipes might be reconstructed in the Cornish language periodical “an Gannas”.
1978 Clive Palmer constructed a set of parallel bore pipes based on the Davidstow bench end carving
1978 Breton Binou used to lead the Cornish Gorsed procession
1982 The Celtic Pipe Band of Bodmin, under Pipe Major Bill McColl, arranged Cornish music for use with Great Pipes and Drums and adopted the Cornish National Tartan as dress.
1983 The Cornish Gorsedh formally creates the office of “Pybyor”, honorary piper for the ceremonies and proclamations of the Gorsedh. Merv Davey uses the Great Pipes to lead the procession at the Nine Maidens near St Columb
1986 Will Coleman of adapts Cornish traditional tunes for the Galician Gaita with similar success to that enjoyed by those using the Great Pipes.
1988 The Cornish Bagpipes project established to undertake research and reconstruct a set of bagpipes drawing from historical sources in Cornwall
1990 Double chantered Cornish bagpipes developed by two pipe makers : Christopher Bayley and Julian Goodacre. Chris Bayley’s pipes had conical chanters and a single bass drone, whereas Julian Goodacre elected to use parallel bore chanters and no drone.
1991 Merv Davey pipes the St Pirans Day procession across Perran Sands, near Perranporth to the ancient oratory of Cornwall’s patron saint.
1992 John Webb pipes on prow of Viking longboat on Tamar for a re-enactment of the Cornu- Danish invasion of Devon
1993 Christopher Bayley’s pipes launched at a concert in Altarnon Church and joined by a reconstructed “crowd” a bowed instrument also depicted on a bench end opposite the piper.
1994 Harry Woodhouse published “Cornish Bagpipes Fact or Fiction” which provides a detailed discussion of the historical references to piping in Cornwall.
1997 Rob Strike, leads the march on London in a re-enactment and commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the 1497 Cornish rebellion
1998 Emergence of the Cornish Tribal Pipe Band which combined gaita and bombardes with afro-celtic percussion.. Although the band only survived 2 years it marked the beginning of a new era of confidence for Cornish pipers.
1999 Pyba release a CD “Ilow koth a Gernow” “the ancient music of Cornwall”
2001 Frances Webb, pipes for the Duke of Cornwall at opening of the Eden Project
2004 An Daras launch “Cornish tunes for Cornish Pipers” as webcast / CD / CDrom and Book
2008 “Cornish pipers” popular for weddings and other events, e.g. the processions and flag raising ceremonies on St Pirans day 4 groups feature bagpipes in presenting a largely Cornish repertoire – Pyba, Radgel, Bagas Degol, Bagas Porthia and the Cornish Caledonian Pipers.
See also Cornish Bagpipes Project 1988
 Piob Mhor / Great Pipes/ Great Highland Pipes, three drones and a conical bore chanter, nine note scale
with flattened seventh
Lowland or border pipes reduced version of the above with conical chanter but bellows blown with
Uillean or Union Pipes bellows blown as per border pipes but more technically sophisticated with
additional regulators – drones activated by the side of the hand to provide a chord accompaniment.
Scottish small pipes – cylindrical bore chanter bellows blown ‘parlour’ but pipes played as miniature Great
Northumberland Pipes – cylindrical bore chanter bellows blown. Additional keys on chanter give an
extended scale range.
 Binou Kozh single drone high pitched chanter typically played with Bombard
Binou Nevez – the Piob Mhor adapted to a Breton style of playing, sometimes with the drone raised by a
Veuze Single Drone and Chanter, lower pitched than Binou Cozh
 The Gaita is a conically chantered close relative of the Piob Mhor and Veuze typically with two drones but
the three drone blackwood Asturian version is visually indistinguishable form the Piob Mhor.
 Vocabularium Cornicum C 12th Cornish /Latin Vocabulary in the Cottonian Library
Fellores Fidecina (Translated to English as Female fiddler)
Harfellor Fidicen ( “ “ Male fiddler )
Kerniat Cornicen ( “ “ Hornpipe player)
Pib Musa ( “ “ Musical Pipe)
Piphit Tibicen ( “ “ Piper)
Pibounal Fistula ( “ “ a Pipe, a flute)
 Midgley, L.M., Minister’s Accounts of the Earldom of Cornwall, 1296-7 (London, 1942 & 1945) II, p. 264. I am grateful to Mike O’Connor for bringing this to my attention
 Origo Mundi : Part one of the Cornish Ordinalia, a three part play written in the late C14th
Abarth an Tas, Menstral a ras, Pebough ware
In the name of the father, Minstrels of grace, Pipe at once
 Wasson, J. M., ed., Devon, Records of Early English Drama (Toronto, Buffalo and London: U of Toronto P, 1986) pp. 85-94. I am grateful to Mike O Connor for bringing this to my attention.
 Launceston Parish records 1462 “Expended in wine to the Mayor and his fellow and Le Mynstrall in the vigil of st Mary Magdelene ….. at the same time to William Parker and John Davey, clerk and other singers for the feast of Mary Magdalene”.
 Launceston Parish Records 1477 “paid to Le Mynstrall 12d “.
 Beunans Meryasek :
The” Life of St Meriasek”, patron Saint of Camborne, 1504
Pybough Menstrels volonnekMay hyllyn donsia dyson
Pipe you hearty minstrels,That we might dance without delay
(Later in same play) Pyboryon wethugh in scon Ny a vyn ketep map bron Moys thi donsya
Pipers, blow quickly We will, every son of a breast Go to dance
 Lostwithiel Guild Steward’s account book: “It(e)m paed to the piper for his lab(our) at St Georg(es) riding” . Dr J Mattingly Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal 2005 p92
 The image of a pig playing the bagpipes on the bench end carving in Braddock Church is that of a common medieval pilgrims badge.
 Entry in the Camborne Churchwardens accounts of 1550: “Paid to the piper in the play – 4d” and a similar entry in the St Ives Borough accounts in 1575.
 Gwreans an Bys :The “Creation of the World”. This is a version of the miracle play signed by William
Jordan 12th August 1611
Mynstrells Grewgh theny peba, May Hallan warbarthe downssya, Del ew an vaner han geys
Minstrels pipe for us, That we may together dance, As is the custom and the fashion
 Sheep clipping in 17th Century Cornwall was a major annual event of social and economic importance that would have been eagerly looked forward to by all concerned. Wealthy landowners often hired a piper to provide entertainment in the evening for everyone involved in the clipping. ( West Penwith at the time of Charles II, Penwith Local History Group 1998 p37 – from the records of landowner and shepherd, William Thomas of Zennor, 1683).
 Gwreans an Bys: The “Creation of the World”, a later version signed by John Keigwin., 1698
Gwrewth an menstrells oll tha pyba ,Mollen ny warbarth daunsya Kepare yw an for yn gwary
Minstrels all pipe That we may dance together As is the way in the play.
 Archaeologia Britannica Edward Lluyd , 1707
Pib pipe of what sort so ever, a water spout a flute
Piban shank, shinebone, a pipe a flute, a flaggellet
Pibidh a piper, a fiddler, a minstrel
Kernias a piper
 Apparently a reference in the Cornish Manuscript held at Bilbao University.
 Antiquities of Cornwall, William Borlase 1754,
Harfel She Piper, a viol, a harp
Harfellor a player on the pipe
Kernat a pipe, a blower of a clarion
Piban a pipe
Pipidh a maker of pipes;a piper
Pip a song
Piphit a songster, a player on the pipe.
 Archeologica Cornu-Britannicum , William Pryce 1790
Kerrin a pipe or tune
Pebough tune you, pipe you
Peban a flute, a flagellet, a little pipe
Pib a pipe of any sort , a flute
 Unlike the Germanic languages, Celtic languages often do not include “bag” when referring to pipes or pipers eg German: Dudelsack, Gaelic: Piob Mhor.
 The Breugals’ bagpipe images have driven the revival of Flemish pipes and of
 Hobsbawm, E J, and T O. Ranger. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
 The bagpipe society journal “Chanter” carries a regular feature inviting people to contribute examples of bagpipism, it is tongue in cheek and clearly enjoyed by the readership but underlines the societies position that there is considerable misinformation circulating about bagpipes and that historically the instrument has secure a provenance in Engliand and the rest of the British isles as it does in Scotland.
 Polig Montjerret, Sonneurs Breiz Izel, (Lorient, Boadeg Ar Sonerion, 1988).
 Hobsbawm et al
 In his introduction to “Cornish Bagpipes Information Pack” published by the Cornish Bagpipes Project,1988., Will Coleman points out that part of the case for reconstructing a set of bagpipes for Cornwall lay in the fact that they already existed as part of Cornish Folklore.
 Hautbois for example, are a Tudor duo who regularly tour Cornwall and feature a double chantered set of pipes which they describe as Cornish with the caveat that this is a convention of terminology. Dr Merryweather was sufficiently moved by his perception of the inaccuracy of this convention to make specific note of this in his article on early pipes in the early msic journal …….
 Sabine Baring Gould, Microfich of manuscripts available at the Wren Trust, Okehampton, and also Cresen Kernow, the Cornwall Centre in Redruth.
 J.Davey, Catch Up Your Heels, An Daras Cornish Folk Arts Project, 2005 (www.an-daras.com)