… eleven pipers piping. (say that three times fast)
At the big feasts held during the holiday celebrations the guests were often entertained by musicians, dancers, jugglers, etc. as well as singing and dancing themselves.
Bagpipes and their younger cousins the musette (an instrument similar to a bagpipe but the air for the sound came from bellows rather than blowing into the instrument) were popular instruments for dance music.
Since Queen Elizabeth I was succeeded by the Stuart kings of Scotland, bagpipes and other aspects of Scots culture were common among the upper classes in England as were elements of French culture due to intermarriage of the English and French nobility.
The pipers referred to in the song would be the professional bagpipe musicians hired to entertain the guests with their music and provide music for dancing.
During the Tudor and Stuart Periods Christmas was a festive time of year for the upper classes and elaborate parties with feasting, music and dancing were common among these classes.
I know for my family, music is not part of our general makeup. I tried violin as a kid and failed horribly at the guitar. I did learn to play the recorder with some skill and enjoyed playing that in my youth. Ahhh, but there is nothing like the mournful soul of the bag pipes. They are a unique instrument that I never tire of hearing.
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