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History of Piping in Western PA

The Highland Bagpipe's origins are shrouded in the mists of time. The instrument was present in Scotland and Ireland in the 13th century, but few artifacts survive from then. It has a long history in western Pennsylvania and is an instrument that has been emblematic of this region

since colonial times, when Scotland's Black Watch and the 77th Montgomery Highlanders and their pipers served in the French and Indian War under General Forbes during the 1758 military campaign that seized control of the region from the French at Fort Duquesne.

As the newly-named Pittsburgh settlement grew, many of the early immigrants came from Scotland and Ireland, bringing their musical traditions and instruments with them. One of the best known was industrialist Andrew Carnegie, born in Dunfermline, Scotland. Mr. Carnegie engaged one of Scotland's top pipers, Angus MacPherson of Inveran, to be his personal piper, and he played at Andrew's daughter's wedding and other special occasions. The first Bagpipe Society was formed in Pittsburgh in 1901, Westinghouse Electric Corporation had its own pipe band during most of the first half of the 20th century, and in the years that followed many school and community bands emerged throughout the region, such as the Grove City Pipe Band, Carnegie Tech Pipes and Drums, the Donora High School Pipe Band, the Carnegie High School Pipe Band, and many others. In 1987 Carnegie Mellon University became the first academic institution in the entire world to offer a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree in Bagpipe Music.

To many people, regardless of ethnic origin, the Highland bagpipe evokes many feelings so basic to human nature, from festive joyfulness to steadfast determination to mournful sorrow and pathos. It is most commonly associated with tartan plaids and kilts, but it is also a symbol of heritage and tradition that comes from its place in war, in the echelons of power, and in everyday life in villages, festivals, and in the ceremonious occasions of weddings and funerals.

It carries musical messages and themes that have served to celebrate community events for centuries. It brings us memories of times past to the fore, and helps us suspend our daily routine as it heralds tradition and community celebrations of special events. It was held in high esteem by this country's forefathers, and its music comprises a major component of what today has come to be regarded as American traditional music. As such, the bagpipe can tell us something about who we are.

The bagpipe is a difficult instrument to master and requires great discipline, a strong work ethic, and dedication to excellence. These are values instilled in students at the Balmoral School of Piping, founded in 1979 by Scottish Gold Medalist James McIntosh M.B.E. and Pittsburgh piper George Balderose. McIntosh's instructors were pipers to the royal family at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, and he in turn trained the only US pipers to win the Gold Medal in Scotland.  In 1978 George Balderose, securing proper visas, invited James McIntosh to come from Scotland to teach in the USA.  During 1980-81 George studied in Scotland with McIntosh on a grant from the Clan Donald Educational and Charitable Trust.  During 1984 McIntosh emigrated to Pittsburgh and with Eldon Gatwood, an oboeist in the Pittsburgh Symphony and a piping student of George's, founded the world's first Bachelor of Performing Arts Program in Bagpipe Music at Carnegie Mellon University.  George Balderose, both as Pipe Major of the Balmoral Pipes and Drums and the Executive Director of the Balmoral School of Piping, endeavors to keep this tradition of excellence in piping alive and well in western Pennsylvania and at the Balmoral School summer sessions held in Pittsburgh and throughout the USA.

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