Flower of Scotland

Flower of Scotland

The website of a Scottish musician would be incomplete without mention of bagpipes.

The song Flower of Scotland was written in 1967 by Roy Williamson of the Scottish folk group The Corries, to music written in the 19th century by Peter Dodds McCormick. The song has become the de facto national anthem of Scotland for sporting events, played on the Great Highland bagpipe.

On Saturday 6 February 2021 Scotland beat England away from home in a rugby international. The following morning, in celebration of the win, I played Flower of Scotland as my closing voluntary for the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church service, streaming it online from my home because of the Covid‑19 pandemic.

On this page you can hear what I played, re‐recorded for a more polished presentation. I play the tune in the form into which it has evolved as an anthem, both as regards the notes and as regards the number of beats between the lines of the song. I play it on my digital piano on its church organ setting, so that what you hear is an electronic keyboard pretending to be a piano pretending to be an organ pretending to be a bagpipe. Keen eyes and ears may notice that the pitch is more than a semitone sharp of International Concert Pitch, as it is on the Great Highland bagpipe. My hands are not one octave or two octaves apart, but a twelfth, which best captures the strident timbre of the bagpipe with its conical bore. In addition I have boosted the treble. As the bagpipe cannot play rests between notes and cannot vary its dynamic (its loudness), the piper expresses note emphasis by grace notes or “embellishments”, and I have tried to make these as authentic as I can. A bagpipe drone consists of three sustained notes, but here I imitate it by a single organ note with its multiple harmonics. I hold down the drone note by wedging a matchstick between the keys, a trick well known to organists.

The third‐last note of the tune, as written by McCormick and as sung by The Corries, was a whole tone below the keynote, but when adapted for the fixed scale of the Great Highland bagpipe in its modern tuning it has to be a semitone below the keynote, which sadly makes it “wrong” in a very real sense. I remember from my childhood the traditional scale of the bagpipe, in which the interval in question was about one and a half semitones, which to my ears still sounds more authentic. Here I use a semitone because I am imitating the modern bagpipe used at sporting events.

But that simulation does not do the anthem justice. You would do better to listen to it in its proper setting, played on real bagpipes and sung by 65,000 Scots in Scotland’s international rugby stadium at Murrayfield in my home city of Edinburgh.