Program Booklet 2004
by Breandan Breathnach
(Thanks to Wally Charm for bringing this piece to my attention-Editor)
The first reference to the bagpipes in Ireland is found in a dinnseanchas or topographical poem. Aonach
Carman, the fair of Carman, a composition of
the eleventh century found in the Book of Lienster:
Pipai, fidli,fir cen gail,
Cnamfhir ocus cuslennaig,
Sluag etig engach egair,
Beccaig ocus buridaig.
(Pipes, fiddles, men without weapons,
bone players and pipe blowers,
a host of embroidered, ornamented dress,
screamers and bellowers.)
It is obvious that the player of the pipai here mentioned differed from the cusslennaig or pipe blowers; and since pipai, modern piopai, was found some centuries later to designate the bagpipes, it is reasonable to assume that in its earliest recorded occurrence in Irish the term likewise related to this instrument.
The earliest representations of pipe-playing are to be seen in the High Crosses and illustrations are next recordedin the 16th century. A rough wood carving of a piper formerly at Woodstock Castle, County Kilkenny, are the picture of a youth playing the pipies drawn on the margin of a missal which had belonged to the abbey of Rosgall, County Kildare, belong to this century. The pipes depicted are obviously the prototype of the present day piob mhor or war-pipes. In form they are one with the types depicted on the continent about this time (e.g. Durer’s piper, 1514).
There is no record of the pipes or any other musical instrument being played on the field of battle in pre-Norman Ireland. In later times the pipes were regarded by foreign commentators as being peculiarly the martial instrument of the Irish.
"To its sound this unconquered, fierce and warlike people march their armies and encourage each other to deeds of valour"
The pipes had a more peaceful use. Writing in 1698, John Dunton, an English traveler, describes a wedding in Kildare:
"After the matrimonial ceremony was over we had a bagpiper and a blind harper that dinned us with their music, to which there was perpetual dancing."
The distinctively Irish type of pipe emerged about the beginning of the 18th century. Its distinguishing features are:
- The bag filled by a bellows, not from a blowpipe;
- A chanter or melody pipe with a range of 2 octaves as compared with a range of nine notes on the older pipes;
- The addition of regulators or closed chanters which permit the accompaniment to the melody.
The modern full set of pipes comprises bag, bellows and chanter, drones and regulators. The tenor or small regulator was added to the set in the last quarter of the 18th century. It was spoken of as a recent addition , not yet in general use, in 1790 and it was the only one referred to by O’Farrell in his tutor for this instrument which was published in 1800. The middle and bass regulators were added in the first quarter of the last (19th) century. These pipes are now most commonly known as as uilleann pipes (pronounced ill-yin, from Irish uille, elbow). This name was first applied to the instrument as late as the beginning of this (20th ) century when it was foisted on the public in 1903 by Grattan Flood, who then proceeded to equate it with the "woolen" pipes of Shakespeare, thus providing for the instrument a spurious origin in the 16th century.
Pipes are made in various pitches. In the older sets the ptch is usually a tone, sometimes more, below concert pitch. Among players such pipes are usually known as "flat sets". The bottom or fundamental note of the chanter is called "D", irrespective of the pitch. This custom of calling the bottom note of their instrument "D", irrespective of the actual pitch, is also common among flute and whistle players.
Piping was at its zenith in pre-famine Ireland. Thereafter the old dances began to give way to the various sets and half-sets based on the quadrilles, and the pipes were superseded by the melodeon and concertina. Towards the end of the 19th century it seemed as if the Irish pipes were fated to follow the Irish harp into oblivion. Fortunately, when the national revival, initiated by the Gaelic League, got under way in 1893, all aspects of the native culture began once more to be cultivated. Pipers clubs were founded in Cork (1898) and in Dublin (1900). Competitions for the instrument were organized by the newly founded Feis Ceoil and the Oireachtas and all the old surviving were assisted to to attend and compete at these events. Genuine traditional players were engaged to teach beginners and in this way the art of piping was passed to a new generation without any break in tradition. While the succession was secured, the pipers’ clubs did not long survive the first flush of enthusiasm and one more the future of the instrument was in jeopardy. Occasional surges of interest occurred, but public reaction to the music was one of disdain and the difficulty of obtaining pipes in tune and easily sounded disheartened youngsters attracted to the instrument.
The establishment in 1968 of Na Piobairi Uilleann, the Uilleann Pipers, may well prove to be the factor which will ensure the survival of the pipes in Ireland. Founded by musicians who had ties with the first pipers club in Dublin and restricted to practicioners, this society possesses firm links with the past, and these are further strengthened by the discovery of old cylinder recordings (made over 70 years ago) of pipers who were then old men. Live tuition and the study of those old recordings have resulted in a line of young pipers whose progress towards mastery of the instrument continues to astound the older players. The rediscovery of the pipes, at an international level, is reflected in the number of aspiring pipers from America and Continental Europe who visit Ireland each year to learn the instrument. The progress made by some of these visitors is astounding.
The surge of interest in piping has generated other activities. Numerous records of piping have been issued by recording companies, specialist collections of the dance music have been published as well as a tutor for the instrument and a manual for pipemaking.
Active membership if Na Piobairi Uilleann now exceeds 280 and is spread throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, Continental Europe, North America and Australia. The most heartening aspect of all this activity is that it is rooted firmly in tradition.
by Julia Say
The Chantry is a 13th Century Grade I Listed Building in Morpeth, Northumberland, (UK) currently owned & run by Castle Morpeth Borough Council. It contains a Craft Fair, Tourist Information Centre, and most importantly to pipers, a unique Bagpipe Museum.
The museum displays are based around the collection of W. A. Cocks, an enthusiast, who started collecting bagpipes, particularly Northumbrian pipes, in the early 20th century. He was widely regarded as an authority in this (then rather obscure) field: on his death in 1971 his extensive collection was bequeathed to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, of which he had long been a member.
It was housed for a while in the Black Gate, Newcastle upon Tyne, the headquarters of the Antiquaries, but difficulties were encountered in this arrangement. In 1986 the collection was loaned to Castle Morpeth Borough Council, who undertook to establish a museum to ensure appropriate access to this collection and other items. This was opened in 1987. The Bagpipe Museum is formally run by a liaison committee consisting of council members, members of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, and the museum curator.
It is the only dedicated bagpipe museum in the UK, and is nationally and internationally recognised by both the music and museum communities for the appropriateness & high standard of its displays. Its location in Morpeth, and its concentration on the local Northumbrian pipes also make the Chantry an ideal centre of operations for the Northumbrian Pipers' Society.
The council is claiming that the costs of running this facility are no longer affordable, and are reviewing the entire operation. The ongoing consultation process could result in the removal of the Bagpipe Museum, either to another, possibly less suitable, location in Morpeth, or elsewhere in Northumberland. In the limit there is a possibility that it would be closed entirely and the collections just put into storage.
Pipers and those interested in bagpipes have been communicating their dismay to the Council and to the local media over this decision, which appears to have been very ill-thought out. There is an ongoing public consultation period with questionnaires, which have to be returned by 30 Sept.
Please see: www.castlemorpeth.gov.uk for more details (a search on the site using the word 'Chantry' should produce hits)
If the council really cannot afford to finance the entire Chantry operation, a possible way forward would be for control to pass to an independent body, such as a 'Chantry Trust'. This would make accessing outside funding, such as lottery and heritage money, easier. The Northumbrian Pipers Society has received a request to agree in principle to participate in setting up such a trust, and the committee has approved this. It could, after all, provide the society with a formal administrative base which it has never previously had; would enable the society publicity drive to include the museum; and would enable the society to take a more active role in the care and promotion of collections which are of interest to all its members, wherever they live.
For more information on the Northumbrian Pipers' Society, please see: www.northumbrianpipers.org.uk
In addition, another, separate, organisation is being proposed, in order to harness the world-wide support the museum already has. This is an independent "Friends of the Bagpipe Museum".
The purposes of the 'Friends of the Bagpipe Museum' might include:
- To establish the level of world-wide interest in such a facility.
- To campaign to ensure that the bagpipe museum has a proper home.
- To promote the museum throughout the world.
- To raise funds, through subscriptions, for the development and promotion of the museum.
- To provide a pool of expertise both in piping and other skills which could prove useful to the museum.
Ideally the Bagpipe Museum should stay where it is, as any move would necessarily incur expense, but the Friends would support the Museum wherever it was located. As a first step, a mailing list has been set up, and anyone who would consider eventually becoming a subscribing member is most welcome. The mailing list will be used to keep members informed of developments in this ongoing saga, and for discussions about organisation, subscriptions etc. The subscriptions are currently envisaged as being in the region of £10 / 15euros / $20 per year, and hopefully can be paid electronically.
If such an organisation could be run largely through the internet, it would minimise administration costs and allow nearly all the funds generated by subscriptions to be spent on promoting and developing the bagpipe museum. It should be possible to develop an online administration so that the views of all 'Friends' can be taken into account.
The "Friends of the Bagpipe Museum" would be entirely independent of any other organisation and would be open to all who have any interest in bagpipes or the museum.
To express an interest in this organisation, and receive further information, please see: www.nspipes.co.uk/bagpipe_museum which contains a link to subscribe to the new list. (sorry, it doesn't accept 'subscribe' commands, there is a short registration process)
Julia Say, Aug 6, 2004
(Julia has been an active piper for 13 years, and a fan of Northumbrian music for many years before that. She was elected a Vice-President of the Northumbrian Pipers Society in 2004. Being interested in the history of piping, she is very concerned that the Cocks collection is properly promoted as a vital part of the Northumbrian heritage that the pipes represent. She is also a Castle Morpeth resident & taxpayer!)
by Julian Goodacre
The only region in England that has retained an unbroken bagpipe tradition is in the north east, where the Northumbrian smallpipes still thrive. However throughout England from the 13th century it is clear a wide variety of other types of pipes had been played. In the mid 19th century the piper John Hunsley of Manton in Lincolnshire died and so the last of the older English bagpipes fell silent. There are many early written references and depictions, but no actual instruments have survived.
Bagpipes began to fall out of favour in the south of England from the 16th century onwards and were increasingly considered to be an instrument of the north. During the 19th century Highland pipes were adopted by the British Army and bagpipes came to be regarded as a Scottish instrument- few people in England were even aware that bagpipes had ever been part of their heritage.
The spark that rekindled interest in the English bagpipe came over a century after John Hunsley's death. While researching in the early 1960s Roderick Cannon found many historical references to the bagpipes being played in England and published two articles in The English Folk Music Journal in the early 1970's.
To revive an extinct instrument requires interest, enthusiasm, music, but above all it requires the instrument itself! The catalyst and focus for the revival was undoubtedly the band Blowzabella, formed by Bill O'Toole and Jon Swayne. They were both studying early instrument making at The London College of Furniture in the late 1970s and were experimenting with making bagpipes. Jon developed his low D Flemish pipe after the paintings of Breugel and his 'English' Bagpipe in G-a mouthblown pipe with two drones and his own design of chanter. At last there were reliable bagpipes to play English music on! Since then Jon has gone on to developed a range of highly sophisticated bagpipes based on the Border bagpipe. Their chanters are chromatic, with an extended range.
Blowzabella's sound was new and exciting and based firmly around the pipes and hurdy gurdy, taking much of their inspiration from the dance music of central France and adapting it to English music. Traditional English tunes once again were played with a drone accompaniment. They organised pipe and hurdy gurdy weekends in the 1980s which were joyous gatherings and the first chances for isolated pipers and other pipe makers, to meet, compare pipes and play together.
It was a very exciting time for me as I had begun to experiment with pipemaking in 1981 and became a professional maker in 1985. Since then I have developed a variety of different pipes. My first, developed with my brother John, was The Leicestershire smallpipe-a single drone instrument that can be mouth or bellows blown. The English Great pipe is based on a 15th century manuscript illustration of the Miller from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I based my Cornish double-chanter bagpipes on a fine carving in the church at Alternun, Bodmin Moor dated c1510- 1532. This is typical of many early carvings of double-chantered pipes to be seen in churches throughout England. My English double pipes are based on actual measurements in the Talbot manuscripts from the 1690s.
English pipers have been looking to European piping traditions for inspiration. A focus for the revival has been the English based Bagpipe Society formed in 1985 for those with an interest in all types of bagpipes. Many of its members play English bagpipes. Some are playing the alluring dance music of central France, which has an unbroken tradition and lends itself perfectly to the pipes. Others are facing the challenge of trying to explore ways of playing English music. So much has been lost and needs to be rediscovered or reinvented. Although our piping tradition is broken there has long been a strong tradition of sophisticated instrumental variations in England. With the discovery and publication of the William Dixon manuscript of 1733 we now have proof that bagpipes were part of this tradition.
Today there are a variety of different English pipes available in a range of keys. There are pipers who play these solo or in groups with or without other pipers for early music, dance bands, morris dancing . even the outer reaches of techno music. But what is English pipe music? After a gap of 200 years without any musical development some pipers are looking to the past whilst others are trying to create new English music for the pipes.
Two English bagpipe trios use strickingly different musical approaches. The Goodacre Brothers were formed in 1986 to play traditional and our own dance music, using use various combinations of both small and great pipes. The history of the trios instrumentation reflects the increasing variety of pipes that I have developed and our musical arrangements are essentially polyphonic. Jon Swayne's trio Moebius play his compositions. His arrangements use sumptuous and sometimes extraordinary harmonies making the whole group sound like one instrument. He has gone on to expand this approach even further into Zephyrus a six piece bagpipe group- who perform a stunning suite of Jon’s arrangements of the 17th century tune Halfe Hannikin. And after all these years Jon is still playing with Blowzabella and in 2003 they reformed to celebrate their 25th year and have decided to play and record again.
The bagpipes are essentially a pastoral instrument which fell out of favour during the centuries of industrialisation and urbanisation. But from the late 20th century we have post industrial aspirations. The pastoral is once again desirable.
The English bagpipe revival is now well under way. For it to flourish we must encourage the younger generation to play. I confidently expect this revival will not go the way I predict and I look foreword with anticipation to the next 30 years!
JULIAN GOODACRE. 10. 2. 2004
Julian Goodacre- WWW.GOODBAGPIPES.CO.UK
The Bagpipe Society- WWW.BAGPIPESOCIETY.ORG.UK
The budget for the 2004 Pipers Gathering is over $22,000. Despite increasing costs for facilities, we have been able to maintain registration costs and concert ticket prices at prior years’ levels. To do this, we have come to depend on three sources of additional income:
We are again very grateful for significant support from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts through their grant programs. Our thanks and appreciation to them for their assistance.
- Merchandise sales.
We count on sales of concert tickets, T Shirts, decals, and the new CD "Live from North Hero" to make up about 15% of our operating budget—so treat yourself and buy gifts for your friends with the added benefit of keeping the event alive.
Several of the participants in the weekend’s events find themselves able—and willing—to provide additional support through cash donations. We would like to profusely thank the following for their kind support (in no particular order):
John & Nancy Lovejoy
Jeanne & Henry Eichelberger
We hope others will be able to join the above donors in helping to continue what is really your event.
The Pipers’ Gathering, Inc., the presenters of the North Hero Pipers’ Gathering, is registered in the State of Vermont as a public-benefit, non-profit corporation. Additionally, it is recognized by the United States Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit organization under the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. Consequently, any donations to the corporation are tax deductible.
We encourage you all to help support this event by making a purchase or a
donation at the registration table or at the concert ticket booths or by mailing
a check to:
We encourage you all to help support this event by making a purchase or a donation at the registration table or at the concert ticket booths or by mailing a check to:
The Pipers' Gathering, Inc.
Steve Bliven, Treasurer
49 Plains Field Drive
South Dartmouth, MA 02748
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