This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Four Well-dressed Pipers

24 May 2019

The highland bagpipes are not an instrument
for a person of shy temperament
or overly cautious nature.

A piper must be brave, brash, even brazen
because you can not play it softly
and you can not hide the sound.

It requires a strong breath,
nimble fingers,
and a stout heart
to stand alone and make the bagpipes skirl.

So to play a highland bagpipe,
either nicely or badly,
you must expect to always be
the center of attention,
therefore you might as well look the part
with a dress that catches the eye.

* * *

The first highland piper is posed in a studio
with a vaguely plaid linoleum floor
and a cheap theatrical backdrop.
He is dressed in full Scottish kit
with tartan kilt, cloak, sporran,
buckle shoes and flat side cap.

He is definitely Scottish
but his photograph is not from Scotland.
It was taken by:

W. Stringer,
Photographic Artist,
8, hart St.
Off London Road


In the 1881 Kelly's directory of Liverpool,
there were six businesses on Hart Street:
a tool maker, a trunk maker, a painter, two joiners,
and at No. 8, William Stringer - hair dresser.

Thirteen years later in 1894,
more tradesmen had established shops
on the other side of Hart street.
Now there was a plumber, a furniture painter,
an engineer, two tailors, a cabinet maker,
a joiner, a trunk maker, a blacksmith,
a bill poster, a coach builder, a picture frame maker
and at No. 8 Hart St,
William Stringer - hair dresser & photographer.

I would date the style of this cabinet card photo
to around 1885-1890.

* * *

The second piper is also easily recognizable
as from Scotland
with a very similar Scottish uniform
of kilt, cloak, belt, and cap.
But his instrument has been abandoned
on the floor by his feet.
Perhaps its bag has burst
which might account for the young lad's sad expression.
Sepia tone is never trustworthy for color hues
but I'd bet that the boy's hair is bright red.

The photographer of this cabinet card was:

Alexr. Macintyre
Portrait & Landscape

Bonnar St.

In the 1896 directory for Dunfermline, of Fife, Scotland
Alexander Macintyre was one of five photographers in the city.
His business was in the 1890 directory
and continued at that address until 1911
when his occupation was listed as "retired."
The building illustrated in his photo's backstamp
is Dunfermline Abbey.
Once a large medieval Benedictine abbey
founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland,
it is now a Church of Scotland parish church.
Alexander Macintyre's studio is only a short walk from the abbey.

* * *

My third piper was a member of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Back in 2013 I posted a story on the Bandsmen of the Black Watch which featured a collection of colorized postcards of the celebrated Royal Highlanders Regiment. This postcard is from the same time period before the First World War, but is just a sepia photo print so we can't see the brilliant colors of the piper's tartan kilt and cloak.

What is particularly unusual is that he is a left handed piper. The modern technique for all woodwind instruments puts the left hand in the upper position on the finger holes or keys with the right hand below. This is because the lower tone holes are used more often, so the right dominant hand is usually in control. And for bagpipes that also places the bag under the left elbow. But here this man has everything reversed. Initially I thought the printer had flipped the image negative, but the piper's shoulder belt passes over his right shoulder just like the other pipers' uniforms. Likewise his cap is tilted to the right like theirs and the button seam of his jacket shows the buttons in the correct place for a man's garment.

It's a peculiar playing position that I can't recall seeing in a modern bagpiper. With drones over his right shoulder he would stand out rather awkwardly in a parade march where all the other pipers had drones over their left side. Conveniently this postcard was mailed from Scotland in 1903.

Black Watch Piper
Oban Scotland              Sept 25, 1903
Dear Friends. We are with you in mind quite
often this wk.  We are both well & enjoying ourselves
immensley   We are half way between Oben & Fort
Williams with mountains all around us. Most
beautiful  sceinery    Mrs T  A  Smith

The back of the card is postmarked September 25 1903 sent from Fort William
and then received 10 days later in Beloit, Wisconsin on October 5, 1903.
It was addressed to Mrs Prof Pearson of Beloit, WS.

I was curious who Mrs Prof Pearson was
and wondered if Mrs. T. A. Smith might be the wife of a "Professor" too.
A quick search on the internet found
Beloit College, a small private liberal arts college.
In its 1903 college bulletin, the faculty list had:

Thomas A. Smith, Ph. D.
Hale Professor of Mathematics and Physics

and three names down:

Calvin W. Pearson, Ph. D.
Harwood Professor of German Language and Literature.

Professor Smith's wife was named Martha Jane Smith
and Professor Pearson's wife was Marthanna T. Pearson.
They lived just three short blocks from each other in Beloit.

1903 Beloit College bulletin

* * *

My last piper is dressed in a mostly khaki uniform of the British army which I believe dates from 1814-1918. His sporran matches the five tassels of the Black Watch piper so I  think he is a piper in the Black Watch Regiment too. His belt has the same broad buckle but his gaiters are olive drab color and not white. This photo postcard was never posted and has the look of a private printing, perhaps by a photographer taking pictures of individual soldiers before they shipped out.

* * *

The sepia tone of these portraits of pipers
of course can not show
the true splendor of the patterns in Scotch plaid.
Nonetheless they were still considered collectable images.
The success of Scottish tourism is partly due
to the attraction of the highland bagpipes.
Yet photos of these musicians
fail to demonstrate the thrilling sound of the instrument.
Fortunately in the 21st century we have YouTube for that.
Here is a talented young lad named Brogan Townsley
busking with his bagpipes in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland.


And for good measure here is one more,
a piper leading a wedding procession
through Kenmore Highland in Perthshire, Scotland.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where you never know where Wallace is hiding.
Can you find him?


La Nightingail said...

You are so perceptive to see that piper standing in the middle of the crowd. I would never have noticed him on my own. I love the sound of bagpipes. The sound echoes in my inner being! My Scottish roots go way back so I'm guessing the sound of the pipes ties in to my genetic memory. This summer we'll be in Edinburgh to view the annual Royal Tattoo and I can hardly wait! I also, of course, enjoyed the information you noted on each piper in your post. We were in Scotland 4 years ago and there were pipers and pipe bands everywhere. What a joy! :)

Kathy said...

Good job! I did not see that bagpipe! That young boy is talented. I hope he got a bit of money playing his lungs out.

Avid Reader said...

I love how the bagpipers dress. (I'm not a big fan of how they sound.)

La Nightingail said...

I forgot to mention one thing - having to do with the very talented young man playing the bagpipes on the street. I was amazed at how many people simply passed by him in the background without a single look at him. Rather cold! Perhaps he played there often? Even so, you'd think they might look his way and smile a little. Oh well.

Kristin said...

I do like bag pipes and was surprised to find myself reading the descriptions of all the pipers. It took me a moment to find the piper in the crowd.

Barbara Rogers said...

Now I know how to most enjoy early, then return to read comments later! Glad to see the outfits, and I'm somewhat Scottish so I also love the pipes. Nope, I didn't see the piper in the photo either. OK, good challenge to enlarge the prompt photos...if I even follow them, that is. I most enjoyed the wedding procession down the street!

DawnTreader said...

Impressive collection of bagpipers


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