A Hyena Caught in a Gin Trap

On November 6, 1745, Scotsman James Reid, who had been found guilty of treason and inciting a riot, was hanged in York. Reid had been a participant in the Jacobite Uprising that sought to restore the Stuart dynasty (and Catholicism) to the British throne, an uprising that finally failed at the Battle of Culloden in the Highlands of Scotland.

Nearly six hundred men were captured and taken back to England to face prosecution. But Reid’s case stands out because his defense was that he carried neither gun nor sword on the battle field.  He was guilty of nothing more, he claimed, than playing the bagpipes. The court debated, but in the end, it ruled that since Highlanders never marched without a piper to lead the charge, the bagpipe was a weapon of war.

It may look all innocent, but don't be fooled. This is a deadly weapon.  By Cyberhofi (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It may look all innocent, but don’t be fooled. This is a deadly weapon. By Cyberhofi (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It may not seem that strange to view the instrument that way, as the reaction to bagpipes can often seem similar to the debate over the control of firearms.

Over the years there have been a number of attempts to restrict the playing of bagpipes, from Englishman Clive Hibberts’ ultimately unsuccessful 1999 “Campaign Against Bagpipes” to the city of Edinburgh’s 2008 threat to arrest anyone playing the pipes on the Royal Mile, a move that eventually led to street musicians being forced to sign acceptable behavior contracts with the city. In parts of Edinburgh, officials have gone so far as to prohibit the playing of even recorded bagpipe music through outdoor speakers of businesses.

And in New Zealand in 2011, bagpipes were added to the list of banned items (a list that includes flares and air horns) at the Rugby World Cup. Because even though bagpipes are part of a long noble tradition, beloved by perhaps dozens of people, a lot of us might agree with sportscaster Miles Davis who compared the sound of the bagpipes to “a hyena caught in a gin trap.”

I've never heard a trapped hyena scream, but I can't imagine it's a pleasant sound. photo credit: P8237087 via photopin (license)
I’ve never heard a trapped hyena scream, but I can’t imagine it’s a pleasant sound. photo credit: P8237087 via photopin (license)

While I don’t mind the occasional bagpipes in an outdoor ceremonial setting (that I can pretty quickly excuse myself from), I tend to fall into the hyena camp. So imagine my excitement when my eight-year-old informed me he would very much like to learn to play this most delightful of Scottish instruments.

It didn’t come as a total surprise. His iPod is filled with bagpipe music and it’s not uncommon to find him rocking out to “Scotland the Brave.” He’s even suggested before that he might want to learn. He’s just never sounded this serious. So I did what any loving, supportive parent would do.

I told him he would have to wear a skirt.

He wasn’t dissuaded.

I told him the skirt would have to be a purple plaid because according to his grandfather that is the family tartan.

He was still pretty adamant.

I told him he couldn’t wear underwear under his purple plaid skirt.

He grinned.

I even tried to convince him he'd rather be a drummer.  photo credit: Shotts Highland Games_1982 via photopin (license)
I even tried to convince him he’d rather be a drummer. photo credit: Shotts Highland Games_1982 via photopin (license)

I don’t dare tell him that his favorite instrument has been declared in a court of law to be a weapon of war, because this is a battle I fear I will lose. It turns out, he’s got a lot of people on his side. I’ve had offers to borrow a chanter so he can begin to learn before we invest in the full instrument. I’ve had friends send me links to college scholarship opportunities for bagpipe players. He’s even received multiple invitations from family and friends to practice at their homes, invitations he will be accepting. Often.

Because I’m a loving, supportive mom and I truly believe, or at least I sincerely hope, that if he tries it out he will lose interest. If he doesn’t, I guess I’ll get him a purple kilt, make him sign an acceptable behavior contract, and learn to love the sound of a hyena caught in a gin trap.


13 thoughts on “A Hyena Caught in a Gin Trap

  1. donnamariev

    Great post, Sarah. Good luck to your son for sticking to his guns, or is it his pipes? And wouldn’t it be lovely if his playing bagpipes would lead to a collage scholarship.

  2. Just think: the sound of your son playing distant bagpipes wafting across the cemetery at your funeral. Nothing could be more lonesomely winsome. (See – there’s always a positive element to everything).

  3. Might as well face it, Sarah, your son has all the characteristics of a teenager, and he’s–how old? Maybe 10?
    It’s bagpipes now; who knows what it’s going to be next year? Or maybe even next week?
    There’s a positive side to all of this, tho. Readership of your blog is going to jump … maybe even explode! Instead of your sons saying, “Mom (or Dad), don’t do that. You’ll embarrass me!”–it’s going to be the opposite.
    They sound like precocious kids to me. Better be looking for an agent for them …

  4. You are a fabulous mother!
    As one of the dozen or so, I will admit that my fandom would not apply to the practice sessions of the beloved bagpipes. That’s why practice rooms are padded and soundproofed. As the mother of a now awesome and accomplished drummer, my advice is to order earplugs by the case. You’ll still be able to assess his progress through the padding, walls, and foam.
    Odd as it would seem, he will be in great demand if he becomes proficient. Let the Angleton purple tartan proudly wave!

    Jim was inducted as a card carrying member of the Clan Society when he married me. (So what if I’m really Irish.) I would have loved it if he had worn the Elliott colors but he declined. He has not fallen in love with the bagpipes. Yet.

  5. Pingback: The Rich Bird-Like Timbre of the Fourth Grade – thepracticalhistorian

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