New Pipe/Concertina CD

It has been nearly 5 years since I made my last CD on the Bagpipes, but I have begun to make another one quite recently, not surprisingly it is made up from the environment I have been living in for the past 3 years…Spain and Sweden and of course the Scottish Borders. I became aware that a lot of the melodies I have been learning, listening too and practicing have not been melodies from my own region (I guess this is why I made a effort to learn new Border Pipe melodies – see “New Melodies for the Border Pipes” blog post below).

This new CD are mainly melodies from Northern Spain (Catalonia, Sanabria, Galicia) and these reflect the contacts I have had during my time there, they are not only notes or notation, but memories and people, places and times.

Another group of melodies are from Sweden, a country I like very much and have spent time kayaking and enjoying the nature, Their music fits very well into the Northumbrian Small Pipe fingering and scale range. Some of these melodies I learned from a harpist I play with in the UK, we play only ‘non-British’ melodies from France, Sweden and Spain and these will also be included on the CD mainly Scottisches and bourrées.

A few Belgium/Nederland tunes will be there too, I got these melodies when I lived in Amsterdam in the 1980s and I remember my time there through these tunes.
And of course there will be a few Northumbrian melodies with a 2nd voice/harmony to accompany the pipes. I will also include the English concertina  on some of the melodies either to accompany the leading melody or to add a 2nd harmony. Since the Northumbrian Small Pipes are ‘somewhere’ between a F and a F# I have to correct the pitch of the concertina!

The Cd is enjoyable to do but it takes many hours work, and this is only with the recordings…not to mention the mixing, production, CD design and printing…

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Making a Scottish Small Pipe chanter

Turning the drilled piece of red wood after it has been bored makes it “chatter” (vibrate) especially in the center, so care is needed to steady the wood with the hands as one turns down the wood to the thin diameter. I am trying a different design with the reed stock so I went away from the traditional measurements. The reed end of the chanter fits into a “reed stock” so the chanter can be removed while the reed is still in the bag/stock.

I do not have a metal work lathe yet, so I turned the form down with the chisel then finished off with rough sandpaper to get the thickness even along the chanter, this helped to reduce “chatter”. The bottom end of the chanter is a little thicker to the top by a few millimeters.

Making Swedish Sackpipa (1)

I completed turning the chanter down to a workable size. I turned the bottom for the chanter so it would be able to fix a sliding part so I can tune the bottom E note exactly to the drone (1st getting it tune with the middle A – the root note). I saw this idea being used by Bors Anders, a sackpipa maker in Sweden. I used Beech wood to contrast the white Damson wood.

 The drone I had already made years ago, I think the wood was Lime wood with a nice grain. It is only temporary, used for quickness to test out the chanter. It is the same length as the chanter which is what is required and the same bore size.

Next is to make the bag and reeds…

Gaita Sanabresa in Zamora

Wandering through the medieval streets of Zamora, Spain, we came across a folkloric group dancing and playing Gaita Sanabresa.

The Fiesta was in aid of married women all over Spain, a sort of weekend long celebration. The colourful costumes of the women and loud resonating gaita made the streets come alive with tradition and feeling. Traditional music in its natural setting always makes it relevant.

Rabels in Castilla and Leon

I made my first Ravel last weekend. I did not know anything about them, only a idea that it was a “up-right” fiddle played in the Medieval Age, but I was wrong. The style of playing in Spain can be up-right or it can be rested into the shoulder and played like a violin, it is played mainly as an accompaniment to singing. It is a popular instrument in the northern region of Spain called Cantabria, but it is also popular in Castilla and Leon, where the workshop was held to make one. One finished ravel was made from a wooden clog, and nicely decorated.

Clog Ravel

The shape is like a cross between a violin and a guitar, it is bowed and the strings can be made from gut or metal. it is made from wood with the body made from a different wood to the soundboard, which is of a harder type.

My Ravel nearly finished

There are 3 stringed Revels (Rabel in Spanish) but we made the 2 string model. They are tuned a 4th a part, when I got home I found mine tuned nicely in a A (440c) and the drone string to a E (440c). Playing it is a different matter as I am not used to bowing, but I can find a scale now and the rest is practice.

 Making it was a joy, I really enjoyed it. As there were too many of us to make one from the beginning we went through the process of making the body and the bow by cutting out the form, but the main construction had already been done for us by our teacher Luis Payno, who is a maker of such instruments and more besides, concentrating on Shepherd instruments of Spain….single reed flutes, bagpipes etc. his web site is http://www.es-aqui.com/payno/pral.htm

A lot of the work was simply gluing and sandpapering, dying the wood and putting on the strings, but it took us 2 days. The workshop was held in a village called La Pedraia de Portillo, near to Valladolid in the region of Castilla and Leon. Accommodation was there in the old Missionary house, and meals were in the organizers home, excellent food! The company was great with late night party on the Saturday with music and more food, my only regret is that I could not understand much of the conversation, and neither could Leila who speaks Spanish, they were speaking a dialect of the area. There a mix of people from the area and some had done this before and some where obviously going to do it again in a more professional enterprise.

Completed Ravels, mine is on the bottom row, 2nd along

Animusic Conference (Aveiro University), Portugal

The Conference went well. I gave my paper on the Open-ended flute in Iberia. I got some positive feed back from other participants, and made some constructive contacts. A few leads which might lead me to other areas of music inside of Spain and Portugal which can only be positive, but in the question of the open-ended flute inside of Iberia is still in question and probably always will until some concrete evidence emerges of this flute type in Iberian history.
Other ney papers were given at the Conference, Turkish ney was, for me, interesting. But I found their information only related to Turkey. But the Turkish ney is surely more than that, as it was the Ottoman ney, which had its influence as far as Iberia. Also when one hears the styles of pre-1926 neyzens they style of playing is not like the ´mystic´style of one hears today in Turkey. It is more of a Arab style, melismatic; and with influences of Western music with uses of arpeggios etc. Neyzen Tefik can be said to use these influences.
We can not just look at one instrument and give all the credit to one country, no country works in such isolation, especially with a large Empirical Empire like the Ottoman.

Iberian Ney

Since there is only a few days to go until I fly off to Porto in Portugal, to give my paper on the “Open-Ended Flute of Iberia”, at the Organology Congress in Aveiro University / A N I M U S I C : Associação Nacional de Instrumentos Musicais / National Association for Musical Instruments – Portugal. I thought to share my Abstract here to post the question “Where has the open-ended flute gone in the Iberian Peninsula?

Commonly known as the Nay, or Kaval (or many other names), I believe it once exisited in Iberia during the occupation by the Moors for over 8 centuries. It is a long time to be under the influence of any power, and one would have thought that such an versatile instument such as this flute type, would have left its mark on the Iberian musical landscape? But, it seems to have completely vanished, except for some Ensembles who are using it in Sephardic and Andalusian recreations, but they are using it with no historical basis, as there is little to find. I think more work needs to be done on this topic, by people who can translate old text documents and find out in what capacity this flute was played and in what music.

“The Iberian Ney: Renewal and Invention”
By Kevin Tilbury

My paper intends to describe the open-ended flute of North Africa and asks the question, “What has happened to the open-ended flute of the Iberian Peninsula?” Since instruments have crossed over from north Africa into the Iberian Peninsular at different periods in history and many of these instruments have survived, flourished, transformed and progressed, I ask why the opened flute, such as the Nai and Qasba, which are evident in north Africa have not survived in Spain and Portugal. There seems to be a lack of evidence present in today’s musical sources.
Yet, the Iberian Peninsular offers an ideal environment, geographically, climatically and musically for this instrument to flourish and adapt and feel at home amongst the music of many regions and styles of Iberia. My own research so far in will show that there is amble interest and source material to resurrect and construct these types of flutes. With interest in Andalus and Sephardic music and various instrument makers constructing and experimenting with old traditional instruments it seems a good time to open the question and hopefully examine why and how the open-ended flute disappeared from the Iberian Peninsular.
Without drawing any final conclusions I hope to open certain areas of research, questions and debate asking why and how the open-ended flute died away and if there is factual evidence to reinvent this instrument back into the Iberian musical landscape.”

Penrith Theatre Concert,19.12.11 (UK)

The Charity “Music Vision” was booked into Penrith’s Theatre for two nights. I was to play a selection of tunes on the Northmubiran Small Pipes in the 2ndhalf. The theatre went back to 1928 and possibly before due to the black and white photographs back stage. The acoustics were good and the stage had ample room compared to Cumwhitten Hall. 

“Music Vision” did their set and other performers came on stage too some local to Penrith, I came on 2nd to last and played the same set as Cumwhitten but with guitar accompaniment. I felt the tunes were beginning to be a little fast for my taste, and it was difficult to hold it back on stage. The tempo of the tunes were good for dancing: waltz tempo and reels etc, but I was after a different sound. The melodies are dance melodies but since no one was dancing why play them as such? I wanted to slow them down and bring out the lyrical quality, the slightly held notes and vibrato using the microphone’s reverb. This I could not to a dance rhythm as well. 

There was a different mood, the audience were a little ‘flat’ no energy and lethargic and I also felt the musicians were too, perhaps after the good response everyone had on Friday it was a little hard to follow. But I felt I played well and the audience clapped a long under reduced steam for my set. Every night is different when performing and I think every audience should not be taken for granted, also there was little alcohol and I think for Cumbrian audiences is a major factor!

Cumwhitton Concert 16.12.11 (UK)

I was invited to play a small village hall on the outskirts of Carlisle, (UK) called Cumwhitton. The hall reminded me of my early music days of practising on stage no bigger than a postage stamp, tripping over wires and microphone stands. Tables were lay out and the hall could take 90 people (in fact there was well over 100), as people arrived it was clear there would be a lot more and they brought their own drink it was going to be lively.

The concert was in aid of the local Charity “Music Vision” who encouraged people, mainly with disabilities to sing and perform, they did a wonderful thing, and some of the people were severely handicapped but performed with conviction and feeling. The performers were all local, age ranging from 13 to over 65, some suffered from nerves better than others. 

Three school girls opened the performances by playing in a group singing songs and one was playing drums. The other school children who had meant to perform backed out as the school and Health and Safety imposed a lot of rules and regulations, insurance and other stupid laws (shame on them) and I guess the parents did not let them come, how stupid and pathetic can they be? Other singers had good voices, one 15 year old girl sang wonderfully.
There was a poetry reading, songs, solo guitarist, bands, and a Compare who had a more of her body out of her dress than in it. Good audience participation, jokes, moving recitals, and I did my performance on the Northumbrian Small Pipes. The tunes were: Mallorca/Wards Brae; Ye Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon/Believe me If All Those Endearing Young Charms/Bonny Lad; they were well recieved with the audience keeping time by banging on the tables.

Gaita de Boto and Ney – Snakes and Reeds

As it was a holiday in Madrid we thought to go and get out into the nature for the day. Our choice of area seemed to be the wrong one as it was heavily industrial with rubbish spoiling the river bank and the river stinking from the chemicals from the nearby factories. This did not stop the wild life from inhabiting the area though, birds and rabbits ran to hide as we walked along the rivers edge. We were walking near to the airport and every 3 minutes planes came over our heads on their way to land. I was getting a little disillusioned as the track came near to the motorway and then it ended with a gate saying “private”. We sat down and ate then headed back the same way.

What interested me was the size of the reed (cane) beds that lined the river bank, and also which grew away from the river and close to the motorway; they grew very big and a few were thick enough to cut , dry and to make open-ended flutes (nai and neys) as well as cane reed flutes.

As we walked along the path we saw a movement a few steps in front of us, a snake slithered down a hole, it was quite large, fat and light green. I am interested in the Gaita de Boto, the gaita from the region of Aragon that sometimes has a snake skin covering the chanter and drone. Green snake skin suddenly came to my mind and how it would fit nicely over my chanter!

I have reeds cut and drying in our flat for about 1 year, they need sized and experimented with to see if they are good enough to make reeds for bagpipes and to make open-ended flutes possibly of an Arabic style (nai) and perhaps a Turkish ney. The reeds near to the motorway were much better than the river bank examples, being away from the river meant they were a lot stronger, I would return and cut them later on and have a supply for a year.

I had collected a few pieces of cane to take home and as we walked I thought what an excellent place to come for  a day out, I can get my musical needs satisfied in one afternoon: snake skin for my chanter and drone, open-ended flutes from the motorway, and drone and chanter reeds from the river bank!
I did not even notice the air planes any more.

Gaita in Sanse (Madrid)

Last night, coming back from the city of mega-stores that are just outside the city of Madrid, we were sitting on the bus heading back to Alcobendas, when my friend suddenly pulling me off the seat and pushing me towards the door. I was a little surprised but I went with the flow. Once on the streets in an area commonly called ‘Sanse’  she led me back up the street and I thought maybe she wanted to return to the mega-store complex that we had just come, but there was method in her madness and very good reason it was too, as on the street corner there stood a busker playing Galician pipes. She had spotted the player while passing and was so excited that she could not tell me in so many words.

He played a gaita with 1 drone over his shoulder and by the look of his ‘open-fingering´technique a Galician chanter. We spoke with him and it was a Galican bagpipe. The single drone variety is an older type, very similar to the Asturian gaita, Gaita de Fole (Portuguese),and gaita Sanabresa, but what makes it different is the finger style as the Asturian gaita use a ‘closed fingering’ not so dis-similar to the Scottish bagpipes. The bottom hand has certain notes closed, whereas the Galican (and others mentioned) use open-fingering and plays like a Pennie-whistle.

He was from a village just outside of Madrid and he came to do some shopping and afterwards was busking. It seemed an odd place to busk on the corner of a noisy street with buses and cars passing but the volume of the gaita cut over all of the traffic noise. He found out that I was from Northern England and then played “Danny Boy” and Irish song/melody then “Amazing Grace” and Scottish melody/song. He played a Galician melody which he said was also internationally well know which it was but I am not sure its title. The internationalism of the music and instrument is becoming more common, people are getting to know each others music and instruments thanks to these international folk festivals, radio, travel, and people taking the time to play on the streets and share music with everyone who passes, and yes, he made some money too.

"Gaitas…Gaitas"

In a hot and steamy basement loud music was playing, flashing lights and people dancing, but this was not a disco in the modern sense but a meeting of traditional musicians playing traditional music from Zamora. The music switched from dulzainas and gaita sanabresa, after a session of gaitas a man passed and said in a loud joking frustrating voice “gaitas! gaitas!”

i took him to mean the frustration of playing together and not being in tune with one another. Not that the dancers minded they were following the rhythms of the drums and castanets but melodies help and when it sounds out of tune it can be a bit hard on the ears! Dam Bach and Mozart…and all the others who have accustomed our ears to perfect harmonies. I think traditional music is one of the remaining forms what do not require perfect harmonic intervals…but it is changing and it is changing fast.

There was something primeval, organic and alive about this performance. Yes it was all out of tune with each other but after sometime the ears and the brain got accustomed to the it and melodies were still recognized. I remember during my M.A. an article about Bulgarian female singers who sang in a few isolated valleys sang with seconds…two notes sung as harmonies but not ‘harmonically in tune’ with each other eg. G and A.

The gaita players where playing the same notes but the pipes were micro-tonally out of tune with each other thus creating discordant pitches, as well as drones which where not in tune with the chanter nor the other drones. It was an amazing sound, loud, rhythmic, free-making. People were enjoying it, dancing to it and even I had a go…

I think the best instrument to annoy ‘harmonic music lovers’ is to play the Highland Bagpipes…they are very loud and can annoy listeners quite easy (as it did with my family relations), but there is something wonderful about it too.

As far as I can tell there is no fixed tuning or pitch with the gaita Sanabresa, it is an old instrument going back to Medieval time and possibly beyond, it has that feel about it. It does not have an equal-tempered scale. It plays in a minor scale but the 3rd flattened note is not exactly a 3rd, it is a little flat and so is the 6th note it is a little flat. It would be dificult to play with other modern instruments as they would be in tuned with an equal-tempered scale so they ‘fit’ harmonically and fixed to a certain pitch. But it makes sense when you play the drone as it would fit in perfectly with the harmonics of the drone.

Gaita Sanabresa can be found in a Bb, B, or C and perhaps other keys in between too!

This also complicates things when one tries to notate the music. As it is in a minor scale key signatures are used in the notation. C/Do minor has 3 flats, but the chanter has a sharpened 7th note, so the Bb would actually sound a B, but it is written without accidentals or a natural sign in the key signature.

The notation is only there for reference it seems not an accurate attempts to represent pitch of the music. There is some notation that is written with out any key signature at all thus making it a C major…but the chanter is the same as before it does not play in a different key with sharps and flats like the Galician (not that i can tell anyways). So the notation is only there as a reference.

On the internet I have tried to find a scale of the gaita Sanabresa written down but I was not able to find one.

So since I could not find a series of notes describing the scale I am going to attempt one now just to put something out there for people to see:

Starting from the bottom note with all fingers closed b, C, D, Eb (flattened), F, G, Ab (flattened), B, C

If any players can add to this I would be most grateful.

Plastic Reeds

Yesterday I got tired of sitting in front of the computer and decided to give reed making a go. I had bought some tools from the local hardware store…files, sandpaper, pliers, etc. and I have had cane drying drying underneath the couch since last year. I thought to start making bagpipe reeds by using a book I had been given on how to make Northumbrian Small Pipe reeds by Colin Ross.  This book was given to me by a reed maker from Appleby in Cumbria, UK. not too far from where I live. I met Bill while I was busking one day in Carlisle and through this contact I later met him in his home where he showed me his workshop, give me some tools and materials and sent me away telling me to go and make reeds, as he was stopping making. I did not do anything for a year, but now I have the time I will try it.

For this experiment I would not use the cane underneath my couch, I would use plastic so if i make a mess I can easily start again. The plastic came from a yoghurt carton and after cutting it to the specified measurements and fixed it to the metal staple I blew into it. It works, it is not loud, I need to experiment a bit with it, add a bridle, scrap it, etc. but it sounds and seems to be the right shape.

There is now a tradition of making plastic reeds. I am in favor of them, as a musician you need that stability these days. The cane reeds are great if they work well but when using your breath to play the bagpipe the moisture can cause all sorts of problems. Plastic reeds last, and it is possible to get a nice sounding reed especially if you learn to make them yourself.

Of course cane reeds sound excellent and if you are into the tradition then they are the right reed for you, but I feel if you are trying to make a living by using cane reeds then you need a steady supply of good reeds and this is not always possible to get on demand from busy pipe makers.

Bellows blown pipes are less of a problem of course due to the dry air from the bellows, but humidity is a problem with the NSP and I have played countless times…or not played, due to the reed closing, changing, getting weak and altering pitch to such an extent that I had to stop playing. This can not be a factor if one is playing for ones living. On the streets it is wet and hot, cold and windy…I am tired of playing in the shadows all the time when it is warm.

So a stable reed is important and I am quite sure if the traditional pipers from centuries ago could have had a plastic reed I am sure they would have used it.

Casa de Zamora (Madrid)

Links and more links…all are connected so they say. Who would know it but last year a folklorist and music researcher I had met on Facebook called Alberto advised me to go to ‘Casa de Zamora’ in Madrid if I wanted to learn about bagpipes from the area of Zamora (Gaita Sanabresa) in north western Spain and to meet musicians in the Madrid area. Casa de Zamora is like a cultural centre for people from the Zamora district of Spain. Each region of Spain seems to have these cultural centers in Madrid and elsewhere, often music is practiced in these centers.
 It took me a few more months to finally get round to going and this was due to meeting Alberto in Zamora and listening to his music which finally made me go; I was thrilled by the music and the musical atmosphere in Zamora. The events itself that inspired me I will write about another time, but let me say it was a new experience and it excited me so much to try and learn the Gaita Sanabresa; the Casa de Zamora’s web site (casadezamora.com) listed a gaita class on Wednesdays and last night I went along.

I noted 12 musicians (10 pipers and 2 drummers) and 1 teacher. The gaitas were not all uniform like the gaitas from Asturius or Galicia they were a mixtures of colours, textures, thicknesses and designs. There were a few new surprises such as the wood used to make a couple of chanters, they were made from a heather plant, which for me was a surprise as I know heather in Scotland and it is a small thin plant, but apparently it grows very high here and strong enough to make chanters. I also noticed there were differences in construction. This is partly due to a lack of supply, one maker was mentioned who made good pipes in Cantabria had a waiting list of about 1 year, but he made other types of pipes besides Gaita Sanabresa.

 If I wanted to learn to play I was advised to get a Galician chanter in Bb (Si bemol) and tape over a section of the 3rd hole making it a minor scale (the popular key of the class was Bb and this was good for singing). The tuning of the chanter was still unclear to me but generally the Sanabresa chanters have a flattened 3rd note and a flattened 6th note, but this was not always the case; and Aliste chanters (the region just south of Sanabresa) had the 3rd note flattened and the 6th note natural. There still needs some clarification in my mind about all of this. The Galician chanters in the class were thinner and slender than the Sanabresa, one boy had quite a thick Sanabresa chanter; their melodies were 1 octave and they used open fingering. The tone was not harsh and with 10 pipers in a small room it was OK on the ears, and time was spent tuning and making sure the pipes were playing in tune together.

 Another point of note was the bag construction, the people who had bought Galician gaitas (so they could learn quickly) had a Galician/Asturian style of bag – ‘pear shaped’ in style made from Gortex, with the bag cut so the drone stock sits naturally onto the shoulder. The Sanabresa gaita bags had the form of an animal and the drone stock was one of its legs (I do not think an animal skin was used, but the shape of the bag was constructed to look like one) and this ‘bent’ backwards so the drone went over the shoulder.  Some had tassel’s over the drones others with out.

The drones were thick and differently designed made from different types of wood: ‘black wood’ and ‘red wood’, ‘knotted wood’ and ‘heather wood’ some of the drone sections had metal rings around the ends as did some of the chanters.
Men and women were learning to play all with different standards, they used notation sometimes but the people seemed to know the melodies from growing up in the Zamora region and were able to play from memory. There were 2 drummers and the rhythms were fast sometimes in 5/8 (aksak rhythm) and other times in more regular patterns, often the rhythm changed half way through a melody from 3/4 to 6/8; often the teacher took the drum when they played as a ensemble.

I was impressed by the whole evening, their friendliness and their music, which I liked a lot.

I will give it a try,…

On Stage in Zamora (Spain)

It has been a number of years since I stood on stage alone playing solo. I remembered when I last did it back in the 90s on stage in Vilnius, Lithuania. I have played countless time since then but to stand on stage in front of about 400 people is still a nerve racking event. Playing with others is easier, you follow each other, timing is easier and just to be with another is more relaxing. I have played Border Pipes for years but hardly performed with them on stage and I choose to start the concert with them. My nerves showed for the first set of tunes, but after a while I got used to it and relaxed. When I played the Northumbrian Small Pipes I was back on familiar territory and played my set with out too much trouble.
I do not think it is the ‘standing on stage’ that is the problem with nerves it is the microphones, it can be in a room with friends or solo recording a CD, but whenever I stand in front of a microphone I grow tense, I do not play as I normal; I can not move or walk around. The microphone rivets me to a spot…curse it.

The melodies I played for the Border pipes (BP) were:
Frisky, 
Chevy Chase, 
I’m O’er Young to Marry Yet, 
Bonny Lad.

Except for Chevy Chase, which is a Border Ballad, the rest of the tunes can be found in the Peacock manuscript from the early 1800s.

The next tune I played was Bonny Pit Laddie, also from Peacock, and I played as many variations as I could remember (I think I missed one out). The style of the Northumbrian and (Scottish) Border repertoire is full of melodies with variations and to memorize them is quite a task; I fail each time but I must say I am also getting better at it too, as my playing time increases so is my memory for these variations.

Next, there was a quick change over of instruments from BP to Northumbrian Small Pipes (NSP). These are quicker to tune than the BP and less problematic to hold and to play. The melodies I played were:
Mallorca, 
Wards Brae, 
Gallowgate Lass.

The last two melodies I grouped together into one melody as they are very similar to each other.

The final group of tunes were:
Johnny Armstrong
Welcome to the Town Again,

the first being a Border Ballad melody and the last a dance tune from Peacocks.

The experience was an interesting one, enjoyable and I hope the start of many more to come in the future.
The video is of the first performance on NSP.

Sac de Gemcs and Galician Bagpipes

I am playing and practicing more Spanish melodies than I am Northumbrian melodies at the moment. Being in the UK allows me to play as much as I want with out bothering anyone. I am getting used to the Sac de Gemecs (bagpipe from Catalonia) as I had problems with its tuning. Again the original reed was not making the chanter in tune with the drones. My recent visit to Madrid produced a Galician reed in C, and when I returned to the UK I fitted it to the Sac de Gemecs and it is sounding nice and in tune with itself. I can also put more pressure on the bag to keep the drone pressure right. In short, it is a easier and nice bagpipe to play now.

I am also playing my Galician D chanter a lot in my ‘hybrid’ bagpipe. It is sounding sweet, a high pitched sound and beautifully in tune with the drones. I am practicing Catalonian and Galician melodies on this and as the fingering is nearly identical I can transfer them onto the Sac de Gemecs.

I finished a composition of a Catalonian melody played on the Sac de Gemecs called “L’arrastrat”. I used the English Concertina as a 1st and 2nd voice along side the Sac de Gemecs melody. I did the recording in the UK and later added the Concertina track in Spain. Have a listen …

Northumbrian Small Pipe 1st Tune Book

A friend recently gave me a copy of the Northumbrian Small Pipes 1st tune book. I had a copy already but this one was from a charity shop in Carlisle, Cumbria. He paid 20p for it, and it was in excellent condition. It is older than my new copy indicating that is has hardly been used/played, with a nice diagram on the back cover of the Northumbrian Small Pipe chanter and the notes it produces. The price is on ‘shillings’ and on the inside it is stated that it is produced in 1970, when I was 5 years old. Inside there are the same number of tunes listed.

The Border Bagpipe Practise

In view of a forthcoming concert in Catalonia in July I connected the Border pipe chanter into my mouth blown ‘hybrid’ bagpipe bag to practise some tunes; it sounded ok after adjustments to the Galician reed. The bottom notes sound strong and clear, but the top notes sound croaky and not distinct. I took the glue out of the 7th hole (which made it play a flattened 7th note) and practised cross-fingering the 7th to get the flattened note, this allowed me to obtain a sharpened 7th with open-fingering as some of the melodies I am learning require both notes. I played Border tunes mainly in 9/8 a few slow airs from the “Border Bagpipe Book”, then I finished the day with melodies from Bewick and Peacock. With the one bass drone (cane reed) sounding just over my shoulder the chanter and the drone blended beautifully together…a joy to play.

My "Hybrid" Mouth Blown Bagpipes

If Organology is a study of musical instruments then musical archaeology is a piecing together of facts about a time and place of that instrument.

My newly made bagpipe would tell of many layers of musical history, and as it stands today, a history that travels continents.

If we start with the oldest first:

The Drones, then we will find out that they came from India, the Punjab. I bought a set of Highland pipes in a small town in 1995. They cost me 18 UK pounds, with it I got several drone reeds and chanter reeds, in fact I bought what there was in his shop. I suspected the chanter would not be in tune but the rest of the pipe I could use for other things. In fact teh reeds fit well in my Border pipe too.
The 3 drones were in a rubber bag, very small, easily inflated but leaked a lot.
The blow pipe had a metal mouth piece which fell off after several years.
With all its faults it did play, and I did use this set of pipes for experiments over the years.
The pipe is made from wood, the chanter is conically bored and not dissimilar to the bore of my Border pipe.
I used the Indian Bass drone in my Hybrid Bagpipe, it plays in ‘Bb’ as well as in ‘A’ and by changing the drones around (removing the middle section) I can also play in ‘D’ with the same reed.
I use the cane reeds I bought in India and they are very good and reliable after so many years.
I use all stocks from the Indian bagpipe too, as well as mouth piece. I have made a few mouth piece tips to replace the metal one I lost. The ‘crack value’ i have replaced recently to make it more air tight.

The Bag I bought in Spain in 2011 from a shop in Madrid, it is a synthetic bag which is in a ‘pear drop’ design, not my favorite to hold, I think in the future I would buy/make a bag in the Highland style.
The cover was made by myself and Leila with fabric bought in Madrid and Zamora.

The Chanter/s I play are a mixture of traditions. Originally I got it to play with my Sanabresa Chanter in Bb, I turned a stock for it and connected it to the bag.
I also made a stock for my Border pipes chanter and if I tuned the drones down to ‘A’ I could get a good sound with the same reed
I also turned a stock for my Galician chanter in D, I removed the middle section of the Drone and it played a D drone to go with it.

The beauty of mouth blown pipes over bellows blown is the less time to ‘pick up and play’; and less time in tuning the drones, also with these pipes I have been able to add a Galician reed in all of them, where as to obtain a Border reed or Sanabresa reed is quite difficult.
Another advantage with this system is that I have 3 chanters and 1 bag, which saves space when transporting them and costs a lot less to buy.

New Melodies for the Border Pipes

I am beginning to learn new melodies on the Border Pipes for the concert in Catalonia in July. I normally play a mixed bag of melodies from Peacock and Bewick with a few Highland tunes as well as the occasional European melody, but now I am concentrating on music from the Scottish and English Borders from the “O’er the Hills and Far Away” (ohfa) and the “Dixon Manuscript” tune books, these tunes have a very different feel to the Northumbrian as they have the flattened 7th note (a G natural, with my A pipes), and the use of notes fall easier to the fingers.
The melodies I am working upon now are:
“An thou were my ain thing” (Dixon)
“Green Bracken” (ohfa)
“The Lad that Keeps the Cattle” (ohfa)
“Gallowa Hills” (ohfa)
“Now Westlin Winds” (ohfa)
“Kelso Lasses” (ohfa)
“The Wedding O’Blyth” (ohfa)
“All Night I lay with Jockey in my Arms” (ohfa)
“Stool of Repentance” (Dixon)
“Dorrington Lads” (Dixon)
“Gingling Geordie” (Dixon)

Making a Swedish Sackpipa

For about 30 years I have been trying to make a set of bagpipes…Northumbrian, Border, Sackpipa, Labanora Duda, Musette. I have always failed because I have never had the correct reeds, nor the correct measurements. I am beginning again hoping I have more knowledge this time to complete a set. I am starting with the Swedish Sakpipa as I am hoping to go to Gagnef in Sweden in June to the Sakpipa Meeting, and there I can ask advice about reeds and perhaps make one that will fit.
I got measurements a few years ago of the chanter and I began today making it from Damson wood that I got from my garden, it has been drying for a year.
Today I cut and turned the wood then drilled the bore of 6mm. dia. down the middle, this took me all day, a slow process.
The problem being the wood is thick and I have to turn it down, which takes quite some time.
I have a few pieces of Spanish cane (Arundo Donax) which I take to Gagnef and make the reeds. The Damson wood has a beautiful grain and it is a white colour.

Making a Scottish Small Pipe Chanter

My need to play indoors in Spain requires me to have a quieter chanter that has a flattened 7th note. My Northumbrian Small Pipes have a sharpened 7th and my Border pipes have both but they are too loud for a small room with neighbors. So I bought a hard wood called “Santa Rosa” a deep red wood, beautiful colouring that slowly turns a darker colour as time passes. I began by boring the wood end to end with the lathe, and achieved nearly a perfect bore with only slight wandering of the drill bit.

Then put it in the lathe and turned it down to a workable size

Turned piece of Santa Rosa Hardwood