The Scots, and their Celtic music and culture: A Virginia perspective

By Captain Ross T McCrindle, Pipe Major, Virginia International Tattoo.

Even as descendants and supporters of Scotland and her traditions and culture, it’s still easy to underestimate the cultural impact a small country of 5 million people has made around the world.  But, in a timely reminder, the international cast of the upcoming 2023 Virginia International Tattoo speaks volumes of the spread of the Celtic arts, not only in traditional terms, but with real time relevance in the modern world.

We often think of the Great Highland Bagpipe as a distinctly Scottish instrument and its primary music is definitely so.  Hailing from Scotland, resplendent in their blue uniforms and representing the United Kingdom, we will see the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Air Force take the floor at Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.  

Because of the age of the instrument, there is huge uncertainty over the precise geographical origin of the bagpipes.  Much weight is given to the theory that the MacCrimmon family of hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLeod of Skye, original proponents of bagpipe music in Scotland, were immigrants from the Cremona area of Northern Italy.  Indeed, in the form of paternal surname common in 14th century Scotland, Mac Crimmon could easily translate to “son of Cremona”, but there are also strong indications that the highland bagpipes existed in Ireland at or around the same time.  Carrying the banner of Irish descendancy in the United States, the Virginia International Tattoo will present the Camden County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums this April. 

Scottish traditions

The Italian link aside, one might struggle to connect the Scottish martial traditions to continental Europe.  Thanks, at least in part, to the “Auld Alliance,” the bagpipes found another home in France and another branch of the music was borne to the Breton piping and drumming scene.  From the Marine Nationale (French Navy), amalgamating the sound of the unique instrument that is the Bombard with their Pipes and Drums, Bagad de Lann-Bihoué bring the sound of Brittany to the naval city of Norfolk.

As Scottish Banner readers will be acutely aware, the spread of Celtic traditions extended not just into Europe, but right around the globe.  Moving south of the equator, the Scots took their industrious and entrepreneurial spirit to the continent of Oceania.  It was in Perth, Western Australia, in 1897 that David Ross, originally of Invergordon, founded the Scotch College and the Virginia International Tattoo is delighted to welcome their students back with their Pipes and Drums for the 2023 tattoo season.

Where there is pipe music, there is also dancing.  Clan soldiers would dance over their swords to motivate themselves for battle, and dance again over the bloodied blades to celebrate their victory.  The tradition of Highland dancing is taught to pipers and drummers of the British Army to this day as a required skill in their basic musical courses, but our cultural journey around the world stays in the southern hemisphere for now.  Delighting audiences young, and less young, in Norfolk this April will be the dancers of The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand. 

The skirl of the pipes

Coming back to the USA, Celtic culture is not only a once-a-year deal in southern Virginia.  Hailing from the Hampton Roads area, Tidewater Pipes and Drums trace their history back to 1975 and have been providing the skirl of the pipes to local audiences ever since.  As our hometown pipe band, we welcome them once again to the 2023 tattoo.  Still in the United States, but slightly further afield, we are delighted to welcome back members of Andy’s tartan Army, all of whom have links to Carnegie Mellon university Pipe Band in the Pittsburgh area, yet another bastion of the Scottish arts!

For those who have experienced the Virginia International Tattoo, it takes no explanation that pride, patriotism, and a celebration of cultures from around the world are just a few of the important factors that lie at its heart.  The Pipes and Drums and the Celtic traditions of their music and dancing aren’t just part of the tattoo, but they are also its heartbeat.  They represent the cohesion of the cast, underlining our alliances and partnerships, and giving life to the notion that the celebration of our cultures is our purest and most valuable gift to each other.  For those who haven’t experienced the Virginia International Tattoo, why not? We’ve been doing this for 26 years!  Join us in Norfolk, Virginia, April 20th through April 23rd for a show like no other.


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