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Portland Highland Games
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Bagpiping and Drumming

Solo Competitions

All day long, you'll be hearing the pipes and drums. In the early morning, solo musicians take over the main field and compete against one another, playing different traditional music styles for world renowned judges.

Musicians are divided into graded skill groups ranging from Grade 5 (reserved for students just beginning their musical careers) all the way up to Grade 1 (advanced musicians). The final grade, Open, is reserved for only the most skilled musicians who must be approved by the local governing piping association, the British Columbia Piping Association (BCPA). Judges base their decisions and rankings on everything from musical interpretation and technical execution, to instrument tone quality and musical arrangements. In true Scottish tradition, these competitions are held outside and the musicians and instruments are subject to elements. The best musical performance wins, no exceptions made for bad weather.

This year, the solo competitions will be starting at 9AM (before opening ceremonies). Get to the games early to hear some of the best bagpiping and drumming musicians from the Pacific Northwest and beyond.


The Great Highland Bagpipe and the music played on them has a rich history. From providing folk dance music, to marching armies into war, to lamenting the passing of fallen heros, the bapipes have a unique place in the world.

Pipes are generally made from rare African Blackwood, and feature ferrules and projecting mounts to protect the wood from cracking or breaking at its ends and from damage by impact. These may be made from nickel, plastic, silver, ivory or a combination. Lately, manufacturers have introduced pipes made of plastic. Although these are not in general use, many pipe bands now choose plastic for their chanter, the piece on which the tune is fingered. The pipe bag is made of sheepskin, cowhide or elk hide. Technology has also made available Gore-Tex pipe bags, which can be installed quickly and are less maintenance.


Piobaireachd, or Ceol Mor, is generally regarded as the "classical" form of music for the great Highland bagpipe. The origins of piobaireachd are lost in antiquity, as it stems from an oral traditions which has been passed down from teacher to student through the centuries. Even though some 350 piobaireachd tunes survive, the written musical scores are only approximations of the original compositions. For players to achieve tune proficiency, they must learn the tunes from skilled instructors who pass along what they have learned from their own instruction and gained from experience.

Tunes played in the piobaireachd events generally fall into one of several styles: laments, salutes, marches and other commemorative pieces. As the listener's familiarity with the music increased, these styles can be distinguished. For the most part, piobaireachd tunes of all types typically take 10 to 15 minutes to play. Each begins with the urlar (or "ground"), followed by successively faster and more ornamented restatements, or variations of the basic melody. The tune usually reaches its climax in the crunluath, the most complex and quickest of the variations. The competitor will generally conclude his presentation with the replaying of the melody introduced in the ground, in effect "closing the circle".

The Grade 1 and Open piobaireachd competitions will held the Friday night before the Portland Games in the Mt. Hood Community College theater. All other piobaireachd will be happening Saturday morning with all other solo competitions.


Probably developed from the drumming used in fife and drum corps, pipe band drumming required development to successfully complement the highly rhythmic pipe tunes as well as the unique sound of the pipes. Innovations where devised in pattern and accent to help the pipers express or "point" the melody, and to serve as a flattering accompaniment for the pipes.

Today's side drummer plays the most technically demanding and difficult style of music for snare drum. The drum corps of the pipe bands you will see at the Highland Games incorporate three types of drummers: bass drummers, who work with the pipe major to furnish the basis for the band's tempo; tenor drummers, whose unsnared drums enhance the pipe tune and snare score with flourishing that also highlight the tune visually and the side drummers, whose playing adds the primary dynamic element to the pipe band.

Most of the solo drumming competitors have received private instruction, including basic training in the rudiments of drumming. Many additional hours of rehearsal are required for a drum corps to achieve the standard you will hear in pipe band competition.

The solo drumming competitions will be held on Saturday morning, starting at 9:30 AM.

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