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Pride of the Pipers?

AH, the skirl o' the pipes! It can send shivers down one's spine as that slow air echoes through the glen with an eerie beauty, or as the quick-time march takes on the sound of a handful of Highlanders dragging fingernails across a blackboard.

The range of opinion about bagpipe music carries over with like extremes to the pipes themselves. It seems that some Scots have set their tams askew over cheap Pakistani bagpipe imports. One would think, given their legendary frugality, that a Scotsman or woman worth their kilt would take a second look at a $123.50 set of imported pipes, compared with the $1,235 variety made in Scotland.

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And the sound? Surely that of the imports at least beats the venerable practice chanter, which, when placed between the wrong lips, renders a credible imitation of an expiring goose's final call. But no. The imports are ``diabolical,'' scoffs one Scottish pipemaker. ``Only good for firewood,'' sniffs prize-winning piper Gary Stronach in a BBC interview.

In defense of the its industry, one Pakistani pipemaker counters that each set of pipes his company produces is electronically tuned and then tested by a pipe major - one of the post-sunset vestiges of the British empire (even members of the new Palestinian police force in Jericho and Gaza graduated to the tune of pipers).

With all due respect to those of miraculous breath control and aural fortitude, give the Pakistanis a break. After all, although the Scots may have raised piping to an art form, bagpipes themselves are ancient imports, dating at least back to Roman times.

After weighing the evidence, we vote for choice. Consider: Junior expresses an interest in learning to play the bagpipes. Assuming the low cost of liability insurance against neighbors' lawsuits, and assuming the short attention span of many youngsters who insist that they really want to learn to play an instrument, would you rather pay a C-note* for that first set of bagpipes or hawk the dining-room furniture?

As for quality of sound, remember, it's in the ear of the listener. After all, those who profess a fine taste in pipe music also gave the world haggis. So much for taste.

* To our non-US readers - C-Note: [slang] a $100 bill (US, that is).

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