I knew very little about the bagpipe music coming out of the Iberian Peninsula, I had spoken to a man online from Catalonia about the Sac de Gemecs and we had exchanged a few emails and sent each other recordings. I had also heard of the Galician Gaita on the radio, but I had no contact with either people or instruments. I also found out that the bagpipes in the Balearic Islands are different to the mainland Iberian bagpipes. So many questions but no answers until I moved to Spain in 2009.
Many of my contacts came from visiting “Taberna Elisa” (an Irish bar which offered concerts and musicians a chance to express themselves in a variety of ways) before the death of its landlord Santy Barral. Another source of contact was the various “Casa’s” (houses) either Casa de Galicia, Casa de Zamora, Casa de Asturias… there are centers where people from those regions can meet, talk in their own dialects/languages, eat regional foods, and play their music. Living in Madrid this was the easiest way to come in contact with music from the regions I was studying.
The Galician, Asturian, Sanabresa Gaitas all have a drone coming over the shoulder, away from the front, and they generally have 1 drone is found (although more are used today) and there is a variety of fingering, reeds are different too, the exception is the Sac de Gemecs which has the drones in front.
Coming to Alchobendas (Madrid) in 2009 I was introduced to the Galician Gaita from the local Casa de Galicia ensemble “Xuntanza De Galegos Alcobendas”, the leader of that group (J. Carracedo) gave me a lot of encouragement to start to play. I had begun lessons on the “adapted” recorder to learn the fingering and notation of the Galician repertoire but not actually tried a gaita out. Soon after I bought a Galician chanter in D (not a common key compared to the C chanter) and I bought a gaita bag from Madrid, and I added a drone from my Scottish Highland bagpipe. It looked a little strange but it played well and I called it “my hybrid gaita” and this gave me chance to play the melodies I had learned from the recorder. I have since bought another Galician chanter in C making it more compatable with other musicians in Spain, I have added another Highland drone to a bag making another “hybrid gaita”. Now I play my C and D Galician chanters with drones I make myself.
I edit a Facebook page for Iberian Bagpipes in the UK
I did a concert on my Northumbrian Small pipes and Border pipes in the city Zamora (2011), and I was introduced to the Gaita Sanabresa by Alberto Jambrina Leal. This Gaita was totally unknown to me before the trip, but because of this it has become a strong interest ever since. The Gaita Sanabresa is unique in Spain in my opinion, due to the fact that it has kept a “minor” tuning and all around it there is a vast variety of gaitas that use a chanter with a “major” scale. Even this “minor” scale is not standard, it varied in each village, but Alberto has now standardized the tunings and is now able to be taught in a Gaita school which is situated in Zamora. This standardization of the Gaita Sanabresa is a recent process compared to the Galician and Asturian gaitas.
I learned various melodies and used to practice in the nearby park, making various videos to chart my progress.
Alberto has kindly helped me with learning the Gaita Sanabresa and the melodies are full of ornamentations, gracing and flourishes, it is a joy and a challenge to learn this music, especially when I try to transfer the music onto the Northumbrian Small pipes and concertina!
I attended the local Casa de Zamora in Madrid, and continued to learn from the Sanabresa Gaita ensemble run by Jose Climent, the former member of folk group “La Musgaña”. The type of chanter used there is in the key of Bb minor, I played there for about a year and it culminated in a CD made for Casa de Zamora, by its members. It is a beautiful CD and I am happy to have played on it, besides playing Gaita Sanabresa on some of its tracks, I recorded 2 tunes from Sanabria played with fiddle and Northumbrian Small pipes. I recently bought a Sanabresa chanter in C minor so I can fix it to my hybrid Gaita.
Sac de Gemecs
I bought a Sac de Gemecs from Jordi Aixalà Basora, a maker in Catalonia and I started to learn tunes from recordings and notation. There was no Casa de Catalan to help me to play in Madrid, so I have been teaching myself, but Jordi and a musician called Gerard Proteu Allis Raurich had sent me notation from Catalonia and the Balearic Islands and I have been playing this.
The Sac de Gemecs has 3 drones coming out of the front of the bag (in front of the player) the fingering and repertoire are also a little different to other gaitas in Iberia especially regarding the top thumb hole and is very different in style, look, and technique from the rest of the Iberian Gaita/s.
I gave a concert in Vilanova i la Geltru, at the “Firasac”(2012) Sac de Gemecs music festival. Here I got to see the Sac de Gemecs in action with street procession and concerts; as well as performing on my Northumbrian Small pipes and Border Pipes.
I continue to play melodies from Catalonia and the Balearic Isles; they are a different feel to them and go well with other chanters that I play.
My first introduction to the Asturian Gaita was in Alchobendas in Casa de Asturias from the band leader “Netto” he told many things about the Gaita and styles or playing.
Later, after moving from Alchobendas to Alcala de Henares (to the east of Madrid), I visited Alcala’s Casa de Asturias and found an Asturian Gaita band there. I joined, and became a member of the band until March 1015.
Learning the Asturian Gaita s been very enjoyable because it uses a fingering very similar to the Northumbrian Small pipes (bottom hand) and the Border Pipes (top hand)! The chanter of the Asturian Gaita is “open ended” at the bottom, but with the bottom hand they use a “closed” fingering the same as my Northumbrian Small pipes. The top hand fingering on the Asturian Gaita is “open” as is my Border Pipes.
I have learned a lot by playing with the Asturian band in various concerts and parades, and with individual members who has taught me technique and style.
I have attended 2 workshops of Asturian Gaita, one in 2015 in Valladolid and the other in 2016 in Alicante. These workshops are a good way to meet other gaiteros from all over Spain and to get tuition from leading Asturian players. I have recently started percussion lessons to get a deeper understand of the various rhythms used in Asturian music, this is helping my Gaita playing a lot.
Xeremier of Mallorca
In 2016 I finally got a chance to visit Mallorca and to see and to play with a Xeremier. This bagpipe from Mallorca has a living tradition on the island and I was pleased I could finally play along with people who had kept this tradition alive. The group I played with were the XEREMIERS DES PUIG DE SA FONT led by Antoni Genovart from Sant Llorenç. I also visited a researcher and Xeremiers called Juan Morley, who told me about the instrument and the “older tunings” which you can read and hear on this blog.
Many thanks to Ann for giving me lot of notation so I can expand my repertoire and practice more of these melodies on my Sac de Gemecs.
I began to busk with the Galician chanter in Carlisle/UK and it was well received there. I made a bag and added a smaller drone out the side so it did not scrape against the wall. I have played in a few folk sessions in the UK with this chanter and again it was well received. I make bags and I have started to make drones to go with the different Iberian chanters I have. I have adapted the Galician D chanter onto my Northumbrian Small pipes and return the drone to match the chanter; and I have begun to make my own drones and adapt the Galician chanter reed, so it is compatable with Session instruments and fits into a pub environment without it being to dominant.
In Alcala de Henares I played Sac de Gemecs with a local folk group.
The music I have transferred onto English Concertina, Northumbrian Small pipes, Scottish Small pipes, Border Pipes and each give a different feel to the melodies. It is a journey by no means ended…
I have also started to play a Northumbrian and Scottish Border repertoire on the Galician chanter. This was inspired by the the front cover of the “The Day It Daws” notation book, which looks very similar to a “Spanish” bagpipe. This got me thinking about what melodies from the Scottish and English Borders would be compatable on a Galician chanter? Hopefully soon this will be my next CD.
more videos can be seen via my “Related Links” page on this site.