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Readers will be acquainted with the previous articles Craig Hohm has provided on playing Irish ornamentation on the Scottish smallpipes. Here he describes the annual weekend in North hero which several pipe-makers from the UK attend each year. Above are - Jon Swayne, Hamish Moore, Alan Jones (Pic Craig Hohm)

The town of North Hero hosted the event, held in the row of community buildings lining the water’s edge. Daily instruction was offered in Scottish smallpipes, uilleann, Nothumbrian, English, and for the first time this year, Border bagpipes. Walking the 100 yard strip of highway 2 that comprises the town centre, one could hear the strains of all these various pipes, and catch glimpses of the camp followers: the hurdy-gurdies, the bodhrans, fiddles, whistles, etc, occupying odd corners of the surrounding landscape.

The town hall at the centre of things was taken over by vendors during the day; there were a large selection of ready made pipes this year in addition to recorded music, manuscripts, and books. At night the stalls folded up and the hall transformed into an auditorium for the main concerts. Out on the front porch throughout the weekend was a perpetual Irish session, while the odd Franco-phile leapt about to binou and bombarde on the front lawn.

Group lessons in beginner and advanced grades on the various pipes took place in the morn- ings of each day, and in the afternoon, workshops and mini-concerts by the instructors filled out the schedule. Some of the topics included: the uilleann pipe tradition of the Rowsome family, bagpipes of central France and Brittany, Scottish smallpipe reed making, hurdy gurdy, and the following two workshops are discussed in more detail.

Barry Shears of Halifax presented his research on the regional styles of the rural Highland pipers of Nova Scotia. Populated by the descendants of families who left Scotland in the “cultural evisceration” of the clearances, these people brought their old piping traditions with them and preserved them with remarkable fidelity into present times. Each region of Nova Scotia preserved its own techniques and settings, and idiosyncratic and individualistic fingerings and ornamentations predominated in the days before the military standardised the playing of the GHB. Barry illustrated his talk with tapes of the old players and demon- strated tunes on his Scottish smallpipes. I was particularly intrigued by his setting of “The Smith” in which his source played the high G with a different fingering, producing a “quarter tone” dissonance sure to rile up dancers.


Barry finished his talk with a dandy set of tunes, accompanied by his daughters step danc- ing, another tradition preserved from the old days, and illustrating the natural coupling of pipes and dancing. Next year let's get them off the carpet and onto a hard floor.

On Sunday the Border pipe forum was well attended. Three makers from three different backgrounds presented their interpretation of this instrument. Some of the attendees worried aloud about the lack of standardisation in the historical records of this instrument, and to some degree this continues today with the variations in tone, fingering, etc, but to my mind this represents a completely healthy diversity (much like the resurgence of real beer manu- factured by the burgeoning micro brewery industry in the States). The “tradition” repre- sented is the tradition of experimentation. Ray Sloan began his search for the “lowland” sound by examining pipes in museum collections. He was able to match his chosen taper with a reed that gave the sound he was looking for, along with cross fingered accidentals and a pinched high b. Ray completed his talk with a demonstration of what we may name the “Northumbrian great pipes”, coupling his lowland drones with a muscular Northum- brian chanter in D. Jon Swayne began his search for a Border pipe design with the intent of playing English dance music, and so from the beginning aimed for an extended range chanter. Some of his sets use three octaves of the tonic as drones. His tonality is to me remi- niscent of the pastoral/ uilleann sound. Hamish Moore also based his Border pipes on an historical set, and over the years has made modifications to create a chanter that responds to the fingering of Highland pipers. His sound has a definite GHB flavour, with a strong bot- tom hand. His son, Fin, topped off the talk with a wonderful set of dance tunes. All three makers played their pipes during the presentation and, at the end, one of the attendees fired up her Nigel Richard set for additional comparison.

Sunday evening was the grand concert in the main hall, what follows are some impression- istic observations of my personal favourites: The hall darkened and a musical procession began, each pipe represented by two or more players marching down the central aisle to the main stage... Andy May stood blinking into the floodlights playing, in his interpretation of Tom Clough, “an inordinate number of gratuitous grace notes” including a memorable ver- sion of the fiddle tune “Big John MacNeil” (the first part of which appeared to be played exclusively with the left fifth finger and the right thumb)... Fin Moore roared through dance sets on the border pipes accompanied by bonnie Jean MacDonald step dancing from Cape Breton, and then sprung a surprise duet on smallpipes with his dad.

Moebius drifted in their “aural Jacuzzi”, the Moebius strip a perfect metaphor for their pe- culiar magic, a dronal continuum : hypnotic, cyclic, interwoven.

So Monday found me back on the ferry crossing to the mountains of New York, musing about the past week-end. where else can you get such a concentrated dose of alternative pipes? Whether it's for instruction, or for the concert performances, or for the sharing of ideas across the bagpipe traditions, there's no festival to compare, at least in this hemi- sphere. Interested parties may look for more information at