I don’t know how I’m ever going to stay away from the Piper’s Gathering now since having such a great time at it this year. For those who don’t know it’s a gathering of non-Highland pipes and pipers from all over, like a rain forest of exotic bagpipes, but not the big Scottish Highland ones. To somebody who grew up playing in pipe bands and competing, to playing in folk bands at festivals and taverns this was a wonderfully rich convention of players, makers, and teachers with some of the best of each represented. They had me teaching Scottish smallpipes and doing a short set for the concert on Saturday night where I played my Texas Saloon or Tavern bagpipes. More on that later.
On Friday night they had a “meet and great” where I got to meet Jim McGillivray, one of the “piping gods” so to speak since he’s a double gold medalist among other things and runs a website with which I was obsessed for about four months earlier this year http://www.piping.on.ca . Check out the “vintage” page and you’ll see why. There are some amazing sets of pipes there and the whole site is a wonderful resource for all kinds of pipers.
I was also delighted to meet the very inspiring pipemaker and player Julian Goodacre who played at least five different English bagpipes at the Saturday concert and had an intriguing history with the different woods he used in his instruments. I highly recommend checking taking a look at http://www.goodbagpipes.co.uk/ to learn more about his music and craft. I wish I could buy a Cornish Double pipe for my friend Richard who is the only person I know other than Julian who could really make it sing.
On Saturday the classes began and I started with the beginners. Since the other two smallpipe teachers, Mr. McGillivray and Ellen MacPhee had a lot of credentials in the Highland technique, I thought I would bring out a bunch of different ornaments I use in jam sessions down here in the South, and teach some popular Irish tunes as well as one tune in particular by Richard Kean called “Farewell Darling”. This tune is one of the most beautiful waltzes I’ve ever known on the pipes and it’s a very practical tune in that two small pipe players can make up harmonies for hours and it never seems to get old.
Also on Saturday I got to meet Nate Banton of http://www.elbowmusic.com , a fellow smallpipe maker whom I found to be very approachable and had a great sense of fun. The pipes on display at his table were lovely and by the end of the weekend I was playing tunes at his booth with Timothy Cummings http://www.timothycummings.com . We closed down the joint and went out dinner afterwards with Ellen MacPhee and some of the other performers. The Gathering was held at a ski resort in Vermont and they put Nate in the “Free Bag Check” area. Of course this meant we had to line up to take advantage of this offer.
When I saw Tim’s book of Appalachian tunes for the bagpipes on Nate’s table I had to play some tunes I learned from my friend Peter Suk on the Texas Saloon pipes. It turns out one of the tunes, “Sandy Boys” was in Tim’s book, a copy of which I now have and it’s very well done. You can hear some of the tunes on the Banton pipes at Nate’s website above.
One of the other instructors at the Gathering gave me some advice when I told him I had a new bagpipe that I had sort of made up and didn’t know what to call. “Made up” is only partial accurate but the story is this: I was initially asked to teach the Scottish Border pipes at the Gathering before they moved me to Scottish Small pipes and the problem is that there’s a school of thought in the Border pipe scene that says one shouldn’t just buy a Border pipe, play on it all your Highland pipe tunes and call it done. There is actually a large repertoire of uniquely Borders music in it’s own style that is worth learning on this instrument. The problem is I’m not an expert on Borders music but I’ve played the Border pipes and the practical application for those pipes is huge. Luckily when they transferred me to Small pipes I was off the hook and I made a bag, a couple of drones, and a chanter on which one could play Highland, Border, Irish, continental European Renaissance tunes, American old time tunes, you name it. There’s a picture of me in the Medieval clothing from Pennsic below where I call it the “Cantiga” pipe. Anyway, the advice I got was to just get up on stage and announce the name of this instrument I had put together out of necessity as if it had all the historical documentation of the Grove Dictionary behind it. So on Saturday I debuted the “Texas Saloon Bagpipe” and played some Playford English tunes on it as well as an American tune called “Nail That Catfish to a Tree”. Unfortunately I didn’t get any video of my set on Saturday, at least not any video that wasn’t just the back of peoples heads.
On Sunday I got to teach and play tunes and hang out with some wonderful pipers and great people. I’ll have to relate the rest of the weekend in another post because just now it’s late and I’m about to leave for a Texas Oklahoma tour. The Pipers’ Gathering was a real inspiration and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the bagpipes and wants to spend a weekend having their mind blown in the beautiful Vermont mountains. http://www.pipersgathering.org