There has been a few entries in this blog about the journey getting to/from the boat in different seasons of the year. Summer is upon us and sadly disappearing. When I came back from Sweden I noticed how ‘green’ our roadsides and fields looked compared to the multicoloured equivalents in Sweden, “What has happened to our wild flowers?” I thought.
Recently I have noticed a change in our country roads, there is more colour, more natural growth of different varieties. I do not know the names of these flowers (there is no need to know to appreciate their colour and beauty) I am just happy there are there; and perhaps they are becoming more widespread than compared to other years, I hope it may continue in years to come. I also notice fields being left and wild flowers growing, if this is EU policy or Farmers taking the initiative, so may it continue
It was not a festival, it was too intimate for that, but it was a meeting of musicians who play the Swedish bagpipes, the sackpipa. I have been interested in the sackpipa for many years when I bought the LP of solo sackpipa in 1991. I had additional information after that when I visited Sweden and actually got to see the instrument after many years of just listening and seeing photos when I visited a maker near to Nykoping called Bors Anders, he is a maker also of ocarinas. The Sackpipa has 1 drone, 1 melody chanter, 1 bag, it is mouth blown. It has a range of 1 octabe – bottom E to top e, the drones sound in A and the tonic on the chanter can be found half way along the chanter. The Scale is E, F#, G#, A, b, c, d, e (most instruments can also play a c# and a d#) these semitones are opened/closed by placing a rubber band over the hole.
But my real immersion to this instrument was the meeting in Gagnef in the county of Dalarna, Sweden. There for a weekend we talked about sackpipa and Swedish music, learned about reeds and construction of the instrument, its evolving status amongst other single beating bagpipes. It is classified as a “simple” instrument due to its single beating reed construction, but it is far from simple! It is quite complicated and getting more advanced as the makers think of new and inventive ways to improve the instrument, its sound and by doing so are creating a new tradition. I was greatly inspired by the event and I have learned a lot about my own playing and instrument by listening to the musicians there. The people were very welcoming; they took the time to speak English and converse with me about their instrument and also about my own Northumbrian Pipes. The players rarely meet to play together and there was a mixture of advanced players and some who were just starting out and all said they had learned from each other. What was special about the meeting was the atmosphere, the closeness of the meeting, the friendliness I felt as an outsider. Certain players played well together, blending harmonies and sweet sounding chanters that I hope, in time, will be recorded and reproduced on a CD. I came away with a lot of ideas about recording and documenting what I had seen. It is changing fast and a lot of techniques and information would have changed by next year, so it is important to document it and preserve it for the future. I hope to make a detailed video of the meeting next year and record the music and performances, dialogue and reed and pipe maintenance as a decade from now I am sure it will have advanced a lot and knowledge will have been lost just as the knowledge has been lost for the 1970s
After coming home from Sweden, where I had attended the Sackpipa Festival (Swedish Bagpipes), I started busking. I have not busked for a few months, I have been too busy with the new rig on the boat. But on my birthday I felt like going out and busking just for enjoyment. When I was playing I had trouble with my G bass drone, it would not staying in tune but kept on going flat. Today it did the same thing and I knocked it off and set the bass D drone instead, so having 2 D drones playing D/d.. I got this idea of a few Cumbrian pipers who just so happen play with their D drones all the time whether in the key of G or D. The Swedish sackpipa players have a chanter which is A, but their drones are in E, which is a similar arangement. I played a lot of melodies today using the D drones and after first thinking it does not sound right…as I am so used to the G/d drone arangement, I started to think how compatable they are together. The D drone compliments the bass notes on the chanter, the F# and the A as well as being in tune with the G (root note) it is quiet and in the top octave the harmonies sound less complicated than with the G/d drones, and the D drone stays in tune!
Another influence from the Sackpipa Festival was the re-tuning of the Border pipes by using tape. I have always had problems with my Border pipes or should I say with the reeds. I could never get the whole chanter in tune with itself whilst being in A (440c) it was ok when it was flat, but in A I had problems. The Sackpipa players cover their holes with rubber bands to tune the chanter, so I covered the holes with tape to make a few notes flatter/sharper and now it is in tune, in concert pitch A and sounding quite nice, again with 2 drones (tenor and bass) tuned in A.