Music of the Highlands

Piping Bands at the Portland Highland Games

Bagpipes, drums, harps and fiddles make up the distinct sounds of the Scottish Highlands, and all can be enjoyed at the annual Portland Highland Games. First and foremost are the solo bagpipe and drum competitions and the powerful piping bands competing for top spot. Explore your Scottish musical journey with harp and fiddle demonstrations and workshops.


Bagpipes at the Portland Highland Games

The Great Highland Bagpipe and the music played on it 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.

What are bagpipes made of?

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. 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 Competition – Friday Evening

The premier Piobaireachd competition is held on Friday evening, as part of the pre-game events. Come listen to this classical form of bagpiping. Admission is just $5 to this event.


Drumming at the Portland Highland Games

Probably developed from the drumming used in fife and drum corps, pipe band drumming developed to complement the highly rhythmic pipe tunes as well as the unique sound of the pipes. Innovations in patterns and accents help the pipers express or “point” the melody, and serve as a flattering accompaniment for the pipes.

What makes up the drum corps?

The drum corps of the pipe bands you will see at the Portland 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

  • 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
  •  Snare score with flourishing that also highlights the tune visually
  • Side drummers, whose playing adds the primary dynamic element to the pipe band


Pipe Bands

Pipe Bands at the Portland Highland Games

Pipe bands were first formed in the 1850s. During the height of Highland life, pipers held an important place in society, and the skill of piping was passed through generations within families. When the traditional Highland lifestyle began to subside, many pipers joined Highland regiments of the British army, finding virtually no other alternatives for employment. This trend actually helped preserve pipe music when it appeared it was in danger of becoming extinct.

Massed Bands

Join us for a unique musical and visual experience of seeing all the representative bands take the field in unison at the closing of the Games. As one unit, they march and play down the main field. It’s a sight you don’t want to miss.

Pipe Bands at the Portland Highland Games

Fiddle Competition

Fiddles at the Portland Highland Games

Second perhaps only to the bagpipe, the fiddle occupies a place of central importance in the musical heritage of Scotland. The fiddle, or a crude instrument very much like it, has been played for centuries in Europe, going back at least as far as early Roman times. The “fiddle” is the same instrument as the violin and remains with us today principally because of its association with Scottish dance music. Acknowledging also the important contributions of the Scottish tradition to America’s own rich fiddle heritage, we are especially pleased to see fiddling takes its rightful place in the Scottish-American community of the Pacific Northwest here at the Portland Highland Games.

Harp Demonstrations

Harps at the Portland Highland Games

The harp is by far Scotland’s oldest traditional instrument. Stone slabs and Celtic crosses dating back to the eighth century A.D. throughout Scotland depict harps and harpers. Public accounts show that from 1490 to the end of the mid-18th century, the gut-strung harp and the wire strung clarsach existed simultaneously in the Highlands and the Lowlands.

In the Highlands, harpers were employed by clan chiefs, and held enviable social status. They accompanied their chiefs into battle until bagpipes assumed that duty in the 16th century. Clan harpers performed for joyous and sad occasions, and also played the clan to sleep at night. Educated people were expected to have some proficiency on the harp. The Scottish harp had fallen into disuse by the 18th century, and until recently had not been heard for hundreds of years.