Three instruments figure strongly in the traditional music of Gaeldom - bagpipe, fiddle and harp (or clàrsach). The clan chief frequently had as part of his household a harper, piper, or fiddler to entertain both he and his guests.
Bagpipe, fiddle and harp - the latter having enjoyed a revival since the 1970s - still form the backbone of today's Gaelic music.
Images of the distinctive triangular-framed harp (or clàrsach) are to be found on Pictish stones dating from before the 9th century. The harp was closely connected with Gaelic poetry, with the harper often accompanying the bard in his recitations. Perhaps the best-known exponent was Rory Dall Morison (c.1656-1713), the Blind Harper, who was both harper and bard to MacLeod of Dunvegan.
By the 17th century the bagpipe had become more popular than the harp. The earliest historical references to bagpipes in Gaeldom date from the mid-sixteenth century, and from about 1700, piping 'colleges' began to appear. Teaching families included the MacKays of Gairloch, the Rankins of Mull and the MacCrimmons of Skye.
Fiddle music became very popular in the 18th century, especially for dancing. The normal pattern of playing tunes was to play in sets of two strathspeys and a reel. Neil Gow (1727-1807), under the patronage of the Duke of Atholl, was perhaps Scotland's greatest fiddler, and is still considered so to the present day. He composed and published, together with his son Nathaniel, many fine tunes which are still played regularly today.
Contemporary Gaelic Music
Gaelic or Highland music has flourished and been given a new, modern setting in recent years by groups such as Wolfstone, Shooglenifty and the Peatbog Faeries. Many festivals devoted to the many branches of 'Celtic' music are held in the Highlands each year, usually in the summer months.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
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