Sackpipa Practice Chanter

I made a “sackpipa practice chanter” by putting my original chanter into a highland bagpipe practice chanter mouth piece. This gives me an opportunity to learn the melodies before applying them to the bag.

Many years ago when I began researching the sackpipa I made a PowerPoint slide show of the melodies I had collected from the internet (mainly from the early version of Olle’s page), I found the mp3 recordings and added them to the slide show. I had intended to learn these melodies one day using the slide show… now is that day. On screen comes the notation and the music automatically plays; as it plays I follow using fingering patterns only, and then I play the melody myself.

The tunes I have been working on so far with any regularity are:

Jag blaste I min pipa (which I have memorized)
Ljugaren (I have memorized)
Sackpipslat efter Jont Lars Olsson (memorized)
Krigsvisa om danskarna (struggling with this one, to remember the melody, it feels a different style in some way).
Steklat fran Sarna (memorized, but the 2nd half creates some mix ups with the finger order)
Vals fran Enviken (memorized)
Visa fran Venjan (I have been playing this one with the C natural just for easiness; the tune requires a C sharp).
Langdans fran Solleron (memorized)
Bjorskottens polska (memorized)
Polska efter Troskari Erik (struggling, due to the polska rhythm)
Gardsbygubbarnas polska (struggling, 2nd half looses me, the polska rhythm and the duplicate notes)
Miller of Dee (memorized)

Bagpipe Making: Help in Making, near Completion

What a difference a few days make when someone comes and helps with the making. Leila flew over from Spain to help with the sewing of the outer bags; she also helped with other aspects of making. By the end of the 3 days we completed all of the assembly, the finer tasks of clack valves, blow pipes, belts for bellows, decoration on the bellows, a new design for the bellows, and securing the wooden drone parts to the metal sliding section.

What is left to do is to drill and fine tune the chanters against the drones, and complete making the reeds. Last week I was wondering if I could complete everything in time but having someone help and encourage and just to bounce ideas helped get through the mountain of jobs that often overwhelmed me. Sometimes, I just froze due to the amount of jobs still to do.

1 bag had to be discarded due to leaking. It was an old bag, an experiment from Spain. It will be easier to make a new bag with the current method than to try and find the leaks.

The next jobs will be tuning of the chanters and making reeds for the drones. It is the last and trickiest task to do.

"The Session" and organic environment

I heard many years ago, in Limerick/Ireland, that “a session is an organic environment”. It changes; it comes and goes, it grows and depletes in size, it has highs and lows, with acoustic dynamics.

I experienced that in the Monaive Festival last weekend. It is hard to pin point all the changes. But there are ‘rules’ to a session, unspoken (mostly) yet evident. These rules are sometimes broken, but generally every one learns the rules and those that don’t find a corner somewhere to play in, alone or with likeminded people, and a different type off session begins… where strangely enough, the same rules apply but under different leadership. Is there a leader in a session? I think there is a general leadership, someone might suggest a rule in the beginning of it, saying who goes next, or what rules are to be used e.g. “we will go in a clockwise rotation of performers”) or, in a instrumental session there is often someone who leads a few sets then is over taken by someone else… and so it continues.

We entered a session in a back room at Monaive, it was in progress with guitars, singers, whistles etc. it was relaxed, with breaks between songs/tunes. We sat on the outside of the circle and waited and listened, after 5 minutes there was time to understand ‘the rules’ and we started to play when there was a pause. It went down ok, then the main group started up again, and so it continued.

A short time later one of the new comers started to tune his drones half way through their set of melodies… the players/group stopped automatically, a pregnant pause occurred, the “rule had been broken”, politely they had stopped to let the newcomer do his thing even though they were into their set (politeness is a rule) but since the new comer was new to “the session” (it was his first festival) how was he to know the rule? No one had told him, no one corrected him (except me). He learned his mistake, seemed apologetic, then a new melody started (the same melody did not continue).

After a while some more people joined the session, pipers, like us. They hung around for a while, listened, learned the rules… and joined in. it was going good, the session had grown, had changed its acoustic dynamic, more original performers still had their inner circle but the newcomers had join and had harmonized.

Then a mass migration happened, a group of new musicians entered, they did not stand and listen, they did not feel what the rules were, they changed the session completely by moving chairs to the bottom of the room, physically moving people down there by persuasion (“it will be better down there for everyone”) the movement occurred while one of the performers was playing a melody, I saw him still playing while he was herded to the bottom of the room, I saw him moving down to the “inner sanctum” of the new “temple” of the newcomers, with themselves as the high priests dictating to the congregation, constructed by themselves. It was no longer an organic session, but a constructed session, a creation with a core of leaders.

The original session had now disbanded, some packed up and left others hung around, watched, talked… I left.

I had seen this happen once before in Newcastleton Folk Festival. Interestingly they played the same type of music too… their type…and you either played it their way or you did not play, there was no room for anything other than themselves. You joined in their session or you were not included.

No one said anything, about this break up, was it accepted as normal? Musicians tolerate… even when the noise levels increase by the “listeners” as more beer is poured down their throats, musicians, singers say nothing… sometimes there is a “shshshs” from a listener to the room, but a few seconds later the noise increases. It is not surprising the festivals are changing, few musicians are going, fewer musicians are camping at festivals… they are changing.

I think ‘the session’ is a microcosm of a society, whether it is in some ones house, or in a bar, or a festival it shows the humanity and the lack of humanity in people.

Bagpipe Making: Bellows (1)

I finished gluing the leather to the cheeks of the 1st bellow, and then I left it to dry over night. It was beginning to look like the finished bellow. Instead of screwing the leather to the cheeks, I inserted safety pins into the cheeks to hold the leather while the glue dried. This worked very well and took a lot quicker to do. I can simply pull the pins out and insert the screws later then the glue is dry.

I then started on the 2nd bellow (my own design). I connected the two ends of the leather by stitching and smearing silicone between the folds and over the stitching, and left it to dry over night.

The glued cheek covering (a green velvet) that was done the previous day had glued smooth and came out nice.

I took the stocks out of the bags, ready for dying them to give them some uniformity in design.

Half-Long Pipes: Dixon Melodies

Since 1991 my Half-long pipes have never played correctly mainly due to excess of air needed to keep a pressure in the bag suitable for playing.

Recently I have done some modifications to the drone bore (narrowed it), chanter holes (made them smaller) , and used larger bellows; the result being a in tune chanter of 440c in the key of A, a bag pressure which is slight, and a bellow action that does not have me flapping around like a scared bird.

I have been concentrating on a few melodies to get me back into playing them in a public environment. The melodies are taken from the Dixon manuscript (1733), which is written for the Border pipes.

The titles are:
“Jack Lattin” playing the variations from 1-8;
“The New Way to Bowden” with variations 1-5;
“Mock the Soldier’s Lady” with variations 1-4;
“Dixon’s Highland Laddie” with variations 1-5;

Sackpipa Blog: Sackpipa Melodies

At the end of May I will be going to the Bagpipe Society “Blowout” with my sackpipa, also I am returning to the “Gagnef (Sackpipa) Meeting” this year at the end of June. I have been going to the Gagnef meeting for 4 years (I skipped last year due to financial difficulties), but this year I will be returning with my own sackpipa to join in with the other musicians.

Because of these events I have decided to keep a blog, leading up to the Blowout and Gagnef meetings. I want to document the progress I have/will make regarding the learning of sackpipa melodies and playing techniques (from an UK perspective!).

The recent acquisition of my sackpipa chanter from Bors Anders (instrument maker from Nykoping, Sweden.you can view his web site at http://www.borsljudet.com ) has enabled me to begin working on Swedish bagpipe melodies. I have had the sackpipa for 2 years but was unable to play it due to a difference in reed/chanter compatibility.

The chanter was made and designed for cane reeds; whereas a synthetic reed from Seth Hammond had been used when I got it. I was finding the top note to be out of tune with the rest of the chanter when set against the drone. Bors Anders very kindly changed the chanter which had been adapted to fit Seth’s reeds (as well as supplying me with Swedish cane for my original chanter).

The result was a tuneful sackpipa chanter. So now I could work on the melodies.

The only notation I had was a book given to me by Bors Anders of his original compositions for sackpipa entitled “Lat Och Olat for Sackpipa” (Swedish characters are not used in the typing), and an A4 size sheet with 5 tunes printed on it. I do not remember where I got this sheet of music from but I did recognize some of the melodies from the titles and I knew them to be traditional… a good place to start learning.

These tunes are: Langdans fran Solleron; Visa fran Venjan; Vals fran Enviken; Ljugaren; Jag Blaste I min pipa.

A few days ago I had visited a piping friend who also is learning the sackpipa, he told me he was learning a few melodies and I thought to give them a try too.

These melodies are: Sackpipa polska; Steklat fran Sarna; Bjorskottens Polska/Polska efter Nedergards Lars.

My first few practices are proving to be fruitful. I have decided to play with completely ‘closed fingering’ (like I play my Northumbrian Small pipes), I did try ‘open’ and ‘semi-open’ fingering, but it felt “natural” to play it this way. 2 years ago at the Gagnef Meeting (2013) in conversation with Olle, he mentioned that there is no “traditional” fingering for the sackpipa, and why not try it fully closed. I can play other pipes, semi and fully open styles, but I like the idea of playing the sackpipa fully closed, especially as I like the staccato style of playing.

I made a recording of the first practice, the tune “Ljugaren” the recording tells of “unsteady bag pressure and‘stiffness’ of style from reading of notation” but early days yet…

Bagpipe Making: Bellows

I had some success yesterday, I began by redrawing the plans for the new bellow cheeks, and I also standardized the plans for the leather, ignoring the Northumbrian style as well as the Irish bellow style. I thought why not experiment with my own style.

After drawing the plans, I cut the leather to the new plans.

I started on the Irish bellows, I glued the leather to the cheeks first instead of adding the screws to the cheeks, and then I loosely place the screws to keep the leather in place, and left it to dry for 24 hours.

I drilled the new holes in the new bellow cheeks and put a covering over the wood for decoration.

I then went to the lathe and finished off the bass drone, my best yet, a nice combination of woods (bubinga and cedar).

Bellow Trouble

Sometimes the work can go smoothly, other times like today it can be really slow and frustrating. The final bass drone is still yet to be completed due to the gluing of the ornamentation.

The fixing of the leather to the bellow cheeks had to be postponed due to the cheeks splitting/cracking. I had to cover the cheek with glue; hopefully this will seal and strengthen the sides making the wood stronger for the screws to go in without splitting the wood. I do not want to revert to the traditional Northumbrian method as I know this works; I want to try new things out. But it is a very slow process having to measure the leather around the cheeks, then sealing and sewing the two ends of the leather together (which I did today), then fixing the leather to the edges of the cheeks.

I do not want to abandon the process just yet, I want to see if I can do it, but it is a method I will not try in the future. Irish pipers have this method for making their bellows, it works fine for them, but for me I need a different system for making bellows.

My own system I will try, straight after I have completed the ‘Irish method’. I have started it already but it is taking time due it is my first try and I am working ‘blind’, after this one it should be smoother.

I dyed and varnished the stocks to make them seem uniform in the bags. This is not essential but from afar it will look presentable; they look like a dark oak colour now.

Cheeks for New Bellows

Today I glued the bass drone pieces together using bubinga and cedar woods, it looks attractive. I will shape it tomorrow then I will have the 7 bass drones made.

I made 7 bellows cheeks today, cut them and sanded them down ready to apply the material. I did away with the curved ends; I want my own design, something to make them a little different. The construction is my own idea, so I might as well make the design a little different too.

The glued fabric on the 2 bellows cheeks I did yesterday was a success, it is ready to apply the “leather” part now…. the tricky bit. 

Workshop Venue

Yesterday I completed shaping another bass drone this time with bubinga and cherry. After taking advice from the “Bagpipe Makers Exchange” forum, I began different tasks to rest the eyes and mind so not to make too many mistakes in the future.

I worked on the bellows by drilling the outlet holes and gluing fabric over the cheeks and letting them dry for 24 hours. Then I went back to the bass drone making, cutting the wood, long boring and shaping it down to 19mm. This will be my 7th and final bass drone for the workshop.

At Newcastleton, I looked around the venue space where the workshop will be held. There was a leather couch type seating around the wall which is good for spacing out the students so their pipes will not overlap each other too much.

The room also took me back to the 1980s Festivals where they used to hold the Northumbrian small pipe competitions, times change, next year it will no longer be a venue but flats.