Bagpipes and Amazing Grace

Is there any reason 99 times out of 100 times that I hear bagpipes being played, Amazing Grace is the song?

In my facebook feed today, someone posted a video of a “REALLY COOL BAGPIPE PERFORMANCE!!” I said to myself, “Bet it’s Amazing Grace.” And a-yup.

What’s the story behind this. I can’t think of any other instrument being tied to a song so strongly as this (perhaps the piano and Chopsticks, but that’s actually a waltz written for the piano; Amazing Grace wasn’t written for bagpipes, AFAIK.)

I always thought it was “Scotland the brave” or “Flowers of the forest”
Perhaps yours is an American thing?

Perhaps it’s the only tune commonly played on the pipes that’s recognizable to folks who aren’t pipe aficionados? Laird McSwarthy’s March of Bloody Victory* is equally popular with pipers but I bet you can’t hum it from memory.

Amazing Grace is also a traditional funeral tune and that’s a lot of the context in which ordinary non-Scottish folks encounter pipe music.

  • Totally made-up example.

Here is from Wikipedia

Well, there I go. Thanks!

It could be that the bagpipes (specifically the Highland Bagpipe, the Scottish one - there are different types of bagpipes) are somewhat limited in range - basically meaning they can’t play very many notes. So the songs they play are limited to just those few notes. Amazing Grace is a song that doesn’t use very many notes, so it’s more or less easily played on the bagpipes.

What the hell life are you leading that you’ve heard Amazing Grace on bagpipes 99 times?

Guantanamo would be better…

He will not crack and he will not confess!

I got 99 problems and a bagpipe is every single one of them.

Next time you hear “Amazing Grace” just insert the lyrics from the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song into the music, and sing along. They fit perfectly. Makes it much more tolerable to sit thru yet another rendition of it.

AG lyrics into GI music works great too. Try it at home! Or check it out on youtube.

For what it’s worth, Mr. Athena, who plays the bagpipes, absolutely HATES playing Amazing Grace. But he’s asked to play it all the time.

It’s true that bagpipes are limited in the notes they play, but there are hundreds and thousands of songs for them. No need to keep hearing the same one over and over and over.

That is because Amazing Grace and Gilligan’s Island are both in Ballad Meter, a very common poetic and musical meter. So-called “Common Meter” is a subset of Ballad Meter.

Here are some of the many lyrics that fit Ballad Meter:

The Australian National Anthem
Auld Lang Syne
Most of the poetry of Emily Dickenson
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Joy to the World
Many other Christmas carols
Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven
The House of the Rising Sun

Now, to blow your mind, here’s Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun.

Because the accordion already claimed Lady of Spain and won’t share it?

As do I. As am I.

But I can rock a lot of “Ode to Joy,” though.

Moved to Cafe Society.

Specifically, highland pipes play a pentatonic scale - the first, second, third, fifth and sixth of a major scale. IIRC, they play 9 notes - almost a 2 octave range. Google about for “pentatonic melodies”. “Stairway to Heaven” for instance.

It’s considered such a trope that Scotty played Amazing Grace for Spock’s memorial service in The Wrath of Khan.

Previous thread on that topic

They say the Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots in 500AD, but the Scots still haven’t got the joke.

It seems like some of this has been covered on the Straight Dope. Amazing Grace is a popular American hymn, especially at funerals. It was often played at police funerals on uilleann pipes because so many American policemen were Irish. At some point, a switch to bagpipes was made because they are louder than uilleann pipes.

Also, it was in Braveheart, so that’s part of the feedback loop.