In the Bag: Callum Armstrong

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Callum Armstrong is an experimental piper who enjoys exploring the possibilities of the pipes. He won the solo prize in 2014 and the ‘Petite Formation’ Prize in 2015 with Cellist George Pasca at the ‘Son Continu’ Festival in France. Callum has recently collaborated with Julian Goodacre to develop a smallpipe chanter with almost 3 octaves, and is currently working developing a technique for the ‘double Scottish smallpipe chanter. Amongst Callum’s current projects are learning and developing reeds for ancient auloi and learning the Musette de cour.

What bagpipes do you play?

Cornish pipes, Scottish Smallpipes both Single and Double by Julian Goodacre, Great Highland Bagpipes by Peter Hender- son, Borderpipes in A and D by Jon Swayne. Currently exploring Musette de Cour by Francis Wood

What led you to take up piping?

When I was about four I went to Edinburgh with my mother and father. We walked up the Royal Mile, and being festi- val time there was a great deal of excite- ment in the air and a great tumult of people. I must have been viewing the world at just above knee height and there were many brightly coloured stalls selling bright coloured cloths and trinkets. And many other things of interest to look at, like a dead mouse and a man on stilts. There was a great deal to take in, but above all of it I could hear a new sound that seemed to waft through the air with ease and could be heard above all other sounds on the street. By the time we got to the top of the hill and I actually saw the piper standing there I was completely in love with the pipes and wanted to play them. It would be another 10 years before my mother could be persuaded to let me start though.

Which pipers do you most admire?

To name a few…Gordon Duncan, Jaques-Martin Hotteterre, Julien Cartonnet

Baroque Music in all its glorious forms, minimalism and jazz.

What three albums are top of your playlist right now?

Il Gardino Armonico’s Vivaldi recordings. John Elliot Gardiner’s recording of Beethoven’s Eroica. Been listening to the Rheingan Sister’s album ‘Already Home’. I dig it!

If you had your life again, what instrument would you play?

Bagpipes, no question!

Name your favourite music festival.

Chateau D’Ars

What three words describe your piping style?

Hell for Leather

Bellows or mouth-blown?

Both

Cats or dogs?

It depends on the wine served. The family dog would sit on my feet when I was practicing. The neighboring cats used to flee as I struck up. In the dog’s older years I believe we had a great mutual respect for each other. I certain- ly used to save him the trouble of clearing the garden of cats. Although by that stage he was completely deaf.

Do you prefer playing, dancing or both?

Going to dances growing up, I used to always want to be in the band to avoid dancing. Dancing used to be a massive phobia of mine until very recently. I now love it. But I will always enjoy playing more.

Cane or plastic reeds?

Both and carbon fibre!

What’s your greatest musical achievement?

Still looking forward to playing every day after 11 years of piping.

What’s your most embarrassing bagpiping moment?

Leading a procession and marching too fast without realizing it, then looking to find everyone else on the distant horizon.

What’s the most annoying question you get asked about the bagpipes?

Scottish? No? Oh it’s Irish!?

What advice would you give a novice?

Focus on the process of and not the end result of learning your instru- ment. Practice, listen, listen to yourself, listen to the instrument, to all types of music. If you want to play something, learn to play something more difficult. Find time to play everyday, even if it is just for 5 minutes! Never be frightened of failing, keep trying and you will succeed.

I love bagpipes because…

The sum of a bagpipe is greater than the parts. It amazes me that on such a supposedly limited instrument so much creativity seems to flourish.

Interviewed by Andy Letcher

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