"The Devil with a Bagpipe" by Erhard Schoen
Bag Dragon
So this musician’s drinking at a bar and suddenly remembers,

“Gotta go check on my car; I left my bagpipes in the back seat.”

He gets outside and—you guessed it—the back window’s been busted open. Peering through the broken window he sees that sure enough, someone has tossed in another set of bagpipes.

A disgusted-looking bagpiper by Durer Yeah, there’s something inherently comical about instruments of the bagpipe family. I have no doubt of the musicianship—or sheer wind power—required to master them, but there’s no denying the comedic appeal of a formless bag of wind, wheezingly resuscitated and animated like some ventriloquist dummy with chanters and drones akimbo.

◄ (Just look at that disgusted looking piper attempting to foist his unruly instrument off onto that guileless knave.)

I Decide to Make My Own
In medieval recreationist circles, a fair amount of time is devoted to fireside entertainment—bardic embellishments, musical performance, comic jest. It dawned on me: I could create a fake instrument that would ingratiate me to my fellow raconteurs and trouvères while requiring no actual performance skill on my part; I could simply hide any simplistic, music-making bits inside! Clearly, some sort of bag instrument was called for.
Manchester Cathedral Shrewsbury, St.Mary's
The Secret Ingredient
This was by no means a carefully researched project: I had a vague mental image of the various bagpipe instruments I had seen in medieval manuscripts and carvings, and I also had a secret weapon: a little tin kazoo. Fingering out a tune on a chanter is one thing, but humming it through a kazoo is far easier. Plus, a kazoo already has the desired, double-reeded drone sound anyway. Brilliant!
A sacred image by Francesco Botticini A profane rendering by Heironymous Bosch
I turned a couple of spindles on the lathe, sewed a bag of suede and stuffed it with batting, carved a wooden case to enclose the kazoo and lo! I had my instrument, but what to call it? “Bag Dragon” came immediately to mind, conjuring up the appropriate measure of fear, loathing and disgust. To further play up the disgust aspect, I developed my own particular performance style.
The "Bag Dragon"
I present my diabolical invention: The Bag-Dragon
Before it can be played, the air bladder of any bagpipe-type instrument must be inflated. I imagine the Bag Dragon to contain a bellows within its leather air bag. All that’s needed to inflate it then is a pumping of this bellows as the bag is couched under the arm—a vigorous flapping of the elbow. This is precisely the type of motion familiar to pre-adolescent boys adept at making farting sounds from their arm pits—a sort of lop-sided funky chicken dance. How utterly charming. All this must precede the actual musical performance and must of course be accomplished with the utmost solemnity and dignity.
A Little History
In retrospect, my Bag Dragon instrument could be labeled a form of medieval French bagpipe called a cornemuse, popular in folk music since the Middle Ages. The 17th century brought to the French royal courts an interest in bucolic imagery from antiquity including music imitative of the Arcadian shepherds’ pipe (presumably a rudimentary type of double-reeded shawm.)
van Dyck, "Portrait of Francois Langlois" Baroque harpsichord with figures of Polyphemus & Galatea
The cornemuse conjured just such a sound but a rustic folk instrument was decidedly out of place amid the French aristocrats, so the name musette and eventually musette de cour (to distinguish it from the piccolo oboe) was applied to this instrument.

Taxonomically, the musette is characterized by the two cylindrical-bore chalumeaux (chanters) and a “shuttle drone” of several reeds within a shuttle-like structure... and unlike most bagpipes, the musette is inflated by a bellows rather than a blowpipe. Ah-ha! Here I have scholarly justification for my arm-flapping performance technique.

Zanobi Machiavelli, "Coronation of the Virgin" It is said that Minerva regarded wind instruments with contempt because of the facial contortions they elicited from the players.

I like to think I have alleviated Minerva’s disdain with my Bag Dragon’s elbow-flapping, technique, but perhaps I delude myself.

Decidedly Silly
As I was retroactively researching the cornemuse for this web page, I encountered a number of images that were just too ridiculous to leave alone.

...Like these guys who look like something out of Dr. Seuss:

Tobias Hubner -- Procession for the Marriage of Herzog Tobias Hubner -- Procession for the Marriage of Herzog
Tobias Hubner -- Procession for the Marriage of Herzog Procession of Bunwickhausen von Walmerode
Coneheads in Ermine Traveling Ovenmitt Troupe
Lucas van Leyden, "Tyl Eulenspeigel" Friedrich Wasmann, "Der Dudelsackpfeifer"
This guy has a small passenger to help blow. Man on right is suspicious of this bagpipe in disguise. "Why is the tall guy making out with that fat woman with the hat?"
Glen's Historical Sketch of the Scotch Bag-Pipe As proof of skill,

ventrilloquists drink a glass of water,

and evidently pipers smoke a pipe.

This one tends to sneak up from behind. Ambi-pipes?

The push-me pull-you of bagpipes.

Estonian Bagpiper
Estonian Bagpiper Estonian Bagpiper
OK, one more (saved the best for last)...
Gaudenzio Ferrari

Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Brian Zegarski, all rights reserved.

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