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one of the world’s most difficult instruments.

August 14, 2015

You may not know it, but you’ve probably heard the sound of the uilleann pipes.. the bagpipes of Ireland. Ironically, the main bagpipes on the soundtrack for the movie “Braveheart,” which is set in Scotland, are Irish pipes.

There was a scene in the film of a piper playing the Scottish Great Highland Pipes, what most people mean when the say the word “bagpipes.” The sound that seemed to be coming out of it was the sound of uilleann pipes. The sound was added in post-production. That was really bizarre.

Here’s a bit of the “Braveheart” soundtrack. The pipes start at the 32nd second mark.

Besides “Braveheart,” you might have seen the video of “Riverdance,” an incredible Celtic music and dance performance. Davy Spillane, who also played the low whistle (a large penny whistle that is an octave lower than the standard whistle) also played the uilleann pipes.

Here’s Spillane performing a beautiful piece from “Riverdance.” This is one of my favorite instrumentals.

You might be wondering why I consider this instrument to be one of the most difficult to play.. well.. check this out:

Just the chanter is complex. Then you’ve got the drones and the regulators to deal with. It is amazing anyone can master this instrument.

To make things even more difficult, the reeds inside the instrument can be adversely affected by the weather. Temperature and humidity changes can make the pipes very hard to tune and keep in tune.

And, pumping the bellows with one’s arm.. the pumping is not in rhythm with the tune one is playing. So to keep the bag filled, the player has to have to deal with the rhythm of the song, and the rhythm of the bellows. Yikes!

In case you are wondering.. no I haven’t tried to play it. I’ve known several professional Celtic musicians, but have never met anyone who owned a set of uilleann pipes. This instrument might be fun to try out, but to really learn how to play it.. I’m not up for that.

Ok then, here is one more video of a master musician playing this incredibly difficult instrument.. even the audience looks stumped!

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