Bagpipes The French Way – The Biniou

Kilts and feathers are the first things that come to mind when you think of bagpipes. The beautiful wind instrument has always been associated with the Scottish culture and their way of life. People rarely realise that the bagpipes are more a part of the ‘Celtic’ culture than their Scottish origins. The Celts spread their wings across every continent and are found everywhere, and it is no wonder they even landed up in France, taking along their beautiful culture and music. At the time, France was a superpower and known to encourage entertainment and create their own versions of things never heard of – much like what they are known for even today. The Biniou is the French version of the bagpipes and is known to be the sharpest of the bagpipe family.

The Origins of The Biniou

There are several versions of bagpipes that are prevalent in France. Each of these pipes has its own story to tell and has been a part of the ever-evolving music and cultural scene that France is known to contribute. During the 19th century, the Biniou Bras was first brought to Brittany through imports and were used to make music. The name has Brenton language origins and plainly translates to the Big Bagpipe. The Bras was played in the Bagad but are not the same as the Biniou Kozh otherwise called as the Biniou Bihan. The real and original one is the Kozh version that is a truly traditional instrument that is played in Brenton and the oldest brought into the country. The oldest bagpipes that are found in France is the Biniou Veuze which has some roots in the eighteenth century. It is a sharp bagpipe that has a very shrilling sound and is usually never used as a solo instrument. Instead, it is one that is best suited for a bombard. The Brenton dances and the music accompanies the sounds of the Biniou when it is played in a bombard.

The Making of The Brenton Biniou

The one thing that all bagpipes have in common is their leather body. Similarly, the Biniou is also made of leather for the bag portion. Three stocks are on the bag that is with the blowpipe. The blowpipes are what the player uses to blow air into the pipes and to create the sound of the bagpipes. The bag, the stocks, the single reed, the tenor drone and the double crane are responsible for the music produced with the bagpipes. The parts other than the bag are made of ivory or sometimes with boxwood.

Today the Biniou is modified and used to touch a whole array of keys from ‘F’ right up to ‘C’. The low pitched ones are perfect for traditional music that comes from the South East side of Brittany in Vannes County. The B Flat and the higher Binious are from the French Cornwall. These beautiful bagpipes are rarely used today to make music anymore with the prevalence of other more modern instruments. However, it holds a firm place in Celtic history in France.