Common Stock invited Jim Conley to send us a report on the piping retreat held over the weekend of September 25-27

Fin Moore, Carlos Nunez, Jerry O’Sullivan & Angus MacKenzie…. where could you find these four piping superstars together at the same time and place?  If you were in attendance at the first edition of the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat recently in beautiful La Veta, Colorado, USA, you would have been in piper’s nirvana as these four masters of their respective bagpipes thrilled students and audiences at the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival and the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat!  
Now in its eleventh year, the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival continues to draw rave reviews for bringing world class Celtic music artists to the tranquil mountains of southern Colorado.  The Festival, brainchild of Jack and Barbara Yule (of the famous Yule Harps) continues the Scottish and Irish tradition of bringing in world class artists to perform and teach in the intimate and rural setting of the Sangre de Cristo range of the southern Rockies every September.  The “Festival” as it’s known locally, has sponsored the Spanish Peaks Harp Retreat all along.  This year the Festival branched out and initiated sponsorship of the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat.  (
Fin Moore served as Piping Retreat Director and focused teaching smallpipe maintenance, bag/bellows technique, new tunes, embellishments and musicality.  He stressed aural learning and even I found some degree of success at this endeavor.  Fin also performed at various concerts, such as Thursday evening’s “Taste of Things to Come”, Friday’s “Sixth St. Hooley”, Saturday’s concert with Scottish super-group Daimh, and Sunday’s “Grand Finale”.  Fin’s skill, patience and humor set the stage for a great weekend of music entertainment and music education.
Uilleann pipers enjoyed a one day workshop on reed-making, taught by Colorado’s own Dirk Mewes.  Dirk, an accomplished uilleann piper in his own right, shared his love of reed-making with the students on Friday.  Dirk and the students spent the day in what appeared to be a woodshop based on all the shavings lying on the tables and floor at the end of the day!  This workshop was especially appreciated by some of the pipers who live in remote areas of the state and don’t have regular opportunities for reed-making instruction, or playing with other uilleann pipers.
The uilleann pipers switched to technique, tunes and embellishments for the last day and a half, under the tutelage of Jerry O’Sullivan!  Jerry has performed at the festival regularly over the 11 years of the festival’s existence.  He’s always a crowd-pleaser, not only because of his skill, but also for his reputation as one of the nicest guys you’ll ever have a chance to meet.  Having him devote a day and a half to the piping retreat was a special treat and offered the students an opportunity to study under one of the true masters of the uilleann pipes.  The small size of our Festival and Retreat allow students to study under masters at very low student:teacher ratios.  
Internationally famous Galician artist, Carlos Nunez was the headliner for the Festival, and he was also actively involved with the Piping Retreat.  Carlos and members of his band thrilled both audiences and Piping Retreat participants with the driving and mesmerizing rhythms of their Galician Celtic music, played to perfection on the gaita.  Carlos conducted several demonstrations and lectures about the history of various types of bagpipes and introduced new tunes.  
On the afternoon before the Piping Retreat started, Carlos and his band conducted a Master Class for pipes, guitar, fiddle and bodhran.  Carlos led the piping class, while other members of his band led the classes for other instruments.  Each class worked on the same tune on their specific instruments.  At the end of an hour, all classes combined for a rousing performance of the new tune, highlighted by spectators joining in to dance to the music!  It was a wonderfully spontaneous finale to an energetic and enthusiastic class with master musicians!

The Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival celebrated its 11th anniversary this year.  Since its inception, the Festival has sponsored the Spanish Peaks Harp Retreat.  The Harp Retreat, just like the Festival, brings world-class artists to perform and teach.  This year, the Harp Retreat, under direction of Nancy Joroff, suggested that participants of the Piping Retreat and Harp Retreat join together to play a few tunes together!  Julie Norem Hawley, of Taos NM, led this adventure for the harpers, with Fin Moore leading the smallpipers.  So, on Saturday afternoon both harpers and smallpipers joined together to play a few tunes.  It was a wonderful experience, proving that smallpipers and harpers can play together without one instrument overpowering the other.  We expect to continue this event!
Angus MacKenzie, piper with the Gaelic supergroup, Daimh also assisted with the Piping Retreat. Angus stopped in one afternoon to share his piping story.  He and Fin, members of the pipe quartet, Seudan, played a round of jigs and reels to delight the participants. Angus, native of Cape Breton but now living on the Isle of Skye, brings a unique perspective to the Celtic traditions.  His piping at the evening concerts thrilled the standing-room-only crowds at our local school auditorium!   
The organizing committee is taking a wee break for this month, but will soon start back to work to organize next year’s edition of the Festival and the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat.  Tentative dates are Sep 22-25, 2016.  For information, email Jim Conley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.