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Allison Campbell’s report on the meeting that took place in Vancouver in July last year was unable to be included in the December 2001 Common Stock, but since another such meet- ing is scheduled for August this year, it is appropriate to include it now.


With pipers in the stairwell, pipers in the parking lot, and reed shavings littering the tables, the second annual ‘Swarm of Drones’ alternative bagpipe weekend workshop ended with a commitment from organizer Rob Macdonald to make it an annual event. About 35 musi- cians from both sides of the border and from across the water met on the UBC campus in Vancouver for workshops and presentations, informal discussions, and a Saturday night concert at the ANZA Club.

The ‘alternative’ refers to the bellows-blown feature of the instruments featured that week- end. The Northumbrian smallpipes, Scottish smallpipes, border, and uillean pipes - are all filled by the player pumping a bellows with one arm, holding the bag beneath the other.

They are generally smaller and quieter than their Highland cousins, with a wider musical range, and as Rob Macdonald noted, the players are generally encouraged to express more interpretation and variation than they are in Highland piping.

Invited guests returning from last year included pipemaker Rob Moore from Vancouver Island; Robin Beck ‘imported’ from Scotland with his high-tech aluminium pipes; and musician and teacher Dick Hensold from Minnesota. New guests included Jock Agnew, Editor of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society magazine Common Stock. John Liestman, pipemaker, teacher, and author of Northumbrian Small Pipes Tutor, and Martin Nolan, one of Ireland’s foremost uillean pipers.

Friday was a meet-and-greet session on Granville Island. Saturday and Sunday were given over to workshops benefitting players at all levels, as well as private and group instruction. Reedmaking and maintenance, improvisation and harmony, the border pipes idiom, and the Dixon manuscript were among the topics presented. There was music in every corner, and


the caring, enthusiastic atmosphere was especially welcomed by those who lacked other pipers in their community with whom to practise.

The Saturday night concert featured Dick Hensold and Martin Nolan. It opened with a guest appearance by the local Kits Point Rapper Sword Team, dancing to pipes for the first time. Robin Beck’s rousing playing suited the fast-paced footwork and intricate figures made by their interlocking swords.

Hensold, whose background includes studies in baroque and classical music, followed the dance performance with his array of pipes, including Northumbrian smallpipes, Swedish sackpipa, and a reconstructed medieval set. His shoulder injury may have hampered a lesser musician, but Hensold, as creative technically as he is musically, had rigged a foot pump (think ‘camping gear’) to inflate the bag and carried on without missing a beat. He played a short set with singer Louise Crossley, impressing listeners with how well the Northumbrian smallpipes balance and blend with other voices and instruments. Michael Korchonoff set aside his own pipes to accompany Hensold on guitar for an instrumental set.

Martin Nolan took the second half of the concert solo, giving the audience a wonderful chance to witness the range and versatility of the uillean pipes in a master’s hands. A Dubliner with twenty years of piping to his credit, his playing exhibited a great deal of legato, characteristic of the traveller’s style. With musical colours ranging from sombre to jaunty, his playing seemed effortless. Along with Agnew and Hensold, Nolan also gave private tutorial sessions throughout the two-day session.

The second annual ‘Swarm of Drones’ alternative bagpipe workshop provided a chance for musicians across the continent to jam, share ideas and resources, check out music books, tapes, and tutorials, and catch up on piping news. Its welcoming atmosphere and busy schedule sent musicians home with new ideas and approaches and recharged their dedication.

Next “Swarm of Drones” weekend is planned for August 17 and 18. Pipers of all persuasions are welcome, so mark it on your calendar now.