An Old Sackpipa at Gagnef 2015

I have just returned from a 10 day trip to Sweden to visit my friend and bagpipe maker Bors Anders, we spoke about many things: making pipes, publicizing and developing Swedish bagpipes on line, the development of the reeds etc.

1 week later we drove north to the village called Gagnef for the Sackpipa Meeting. This was my 4th visit and my best due to the fact I had my own sackpipa this time, and was able to join in with the melodies.

The Gagnef group visited the local museum where we saw an old example of a sackpipa with an imitation small drone attatched in the same stock as the larger playable drone. The instrument was in a bad condition, not playable, we noticed the cutting marks of the handmade instrument, the bored out chanter and discussed if it had been turned or drilled on a lathe. 

There was some beautiful design work on the stocks, as well as wooden pegs to place a leather strap over the bindings. Obviously a lot of work was given to the construction of the bag and leather work, but other things like the wooden parts were poorly done. 

The chanter and drone stocks were not centered, the cut of the thumb hole seemed to be for a left handed player (left hand at the top of the chanter), and the finger indentations were all symmetrical cut into the chanter wall.

The ‘owner’ of this pipe was a landlord of a village a few kms away, he owned a pub and also was skilled in leather work, this reflect the workmanship of the leather, but not the wood parts. The bag had been repaired and chanter holes were slits and all had the same size and dimensions…was it ever playable?

Why was there a 2nd drone added? Did he see it somewhere and copied it? Was he copying a set he had seen before or just heard that pipes had 2 drones? Owning an Inn would let him see and hear bagpipes being played from people passing through. Perhaps he had acquired the pipes from a traveler? Perhaps he had seen one and tried to copy it but could not play? Who knows… but it was interesting to see a historical sackpipa which was dated roughly 1850-1900.

The rest of the weekend was playing; sorting out the reeds, socializing, eating and having a great time in the Swedish countryside… loved it.

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)

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…

Nyckelharpa in Bingsjöstämman

In July there are 2 music festivals I love to go to in Sweden. The first is the Sackpipa meeting in Gagnef, Dalarna; and the other is the Nyckelharpa and fiddle festival at Bingsjo, Dalarna. Both festivals are in the 1st week of July.

“I have admired the Swedish Nyckelharpa since 1991, and the interest has never gone away. I have been lucky enough to attend the Bingsjöstämman music festival (Dalarna, Sweden) for the past 2 years, and seen and heard the Nyckelharpa being played by many good musicians. Here are a collection of photos I took from my 2012 visit, and I recorded the music too. Sadly, I do not know the group of Nyckelharpas who were playing on the recording, nor the name of the melody being played, but I hope it is a homage to the many names of contributors to this amazing instrument and musical tradition”.

The nyckelharpa is a keyed fiddle, it comes in many different variations, but most of the photos here are of the chromatic variant which is relatively modern instrument. I am also interested in the Moraharpa and the Silverbasharpa, which are not chromatic.

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…

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…

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.

Gagnef Sackpipa Meeting. 2011

We were woken at 8am by our host playing a rather long trumpet made from wood/bark, so began the day. After breakfast the players of the sackpipa assembled in various places in the garden and played, talked and discussed all things concerning the sackpipa. In the tent at the bottom of the garden there was reed discussions and maintenance. Groups of pipers found each other and played a few tunes, then they dispersed and played elsewhere with different pipers. Here is a video of the Meeting, short video clips shows the weekend events and a small sample of what the event contained. A series of photographs shows the people who attended, pipes played and group activities. If anyone is watching who is interested in attending the Meeting next year it would be well worth the journey, accommodation is available on site. Hope to see you there next year.

Gagnef Sweden: Sackpipa Meeting

 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
 

D Drones and the Sackpipa

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.