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THEIR high-pitched skirl has put fear into the hearts of Scotland’s enemies and sent sensitive tourists reaching for the cotton wool.
Now, however, the bagpipes are to be quietened by an edict from Brussels.
From this month, pipers must adhere to strict volume limits or risk breaking European Union health and safety laws. Bands have been ordered to tone down or wear earplugs to limit noise exposure to 85 decibels.
Typically, a pipe band played at full volume peaks at 122 decibels outdoors, noisier than the sound of either a nightclub or a chainsaw, which rises to 116 decibels.
The prospect of more subdued bagpipes will be welcomed by some, but musicians have warned performances will suffer.
Pipe majors claim it is virtually impossible to play quietly or to tune a band when the musicians are wearing earplugs, raising the prospect of a cacophony at showcase events such as the Edinburgh military tattoo.
The rules in effect limit practice without earplugs to about 15 minutes a day.
While piping schools have begun issuing students with hearing protectors, pipe majors are preparing to make a stand.
Ian Hughes, head of the RAF Leuchars band at an airbase in Fife, claimed the new legislation in effect outlawed bagpipe playing for the first time in more than 250 years.
The last time was after the Jacobite rising of 1745 and the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s clansmen at the battle of Culloden.
“These limits are far too low. If we have to go with these regulations, pipe bands won’t exist,” said Hughes. “Every pipe band in the world will be above the maximum volume level.
“Bringing in a law making pipers wear ear protection means the playing of pipes is outlawed. Earplugs take away the clarity of the sound and create a problem if you’re trying to tune a band up to a certain standard.
“You can’t play the pipe quietly; they haven’t got a volume switch.”