The Piper’s Gathering – One Event, Two Perspectives

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Editor’s Note: The Blowout is the annual “must go to” event in the UK piping calendar but for our many North American members, the Pipers’ Gathering is a fixture in their diary. Here we have two viewpoints on this event, one from a first timer and another from a seasoned attender. Whilst the reviews focus on the Northumbrian Smallpipes classes, there are tutors and events for a wide variety of pipes, including border pipes, small pipes, Uilleanns and many more. www.pipersgathering.org

I am a new smallpiper: I began playing Northumbrian small-pipes in 2016 and picked up a set of Garvie border pipes this year. The Northumbrian pipe instructors at Pipers’ Gathering 2018 were Anthony Robb and Bill Wakefield, and the border piping classes were offered by Will Woodson (from Maine, USA). We had a variety of Northumbrian pipers in attendance, ranging from three in the beginner class with Anthony up to 9 or 10 in the intermediate/advanced classes. Anthony worked with us on some lovely tunes of modern vintage, particularly Waikato Valley by Johnny Handle and pieces from the Shipley Set by Alastair Anderson. But the Gathering is about more than the long classes, because you can only attend four of them. Anthony also offered a delightful mini-class where he displayed pictures from Northumberland and played sound clips from older recordings, particularly of Willie Taylor and Will Atkinson. At the end of class, we convinced him to sacrifice his knees for us and show us a traditional rant step. I think there may be a video of that somewhere… Truly, there were many relevant but overlapping offerings. One mini-class offered by Will Woodson that sounded quite interesting was on the use of alternative drone reed materials for small pipes such as hydrangea and elder stems.

Beyond the classes and workshops offered, there were also two concerts on Saturday and Sunday night. Anthony played on Saturday night both solo and with his wife Heather. It’s a treat to hear them play together! Heather also played in several of the informal group playing sessions in the evenings. There was a large final NSP session with most attending pipers and including Heather on a violin. While the majority of the players sensibly packed up around 11:30 pm, some of us didn’t want to stop and continued to play and chat for another hour or two. The Uilleann pipers put us to shame when their session had apparently not yet ended when the breakfast line opened on Monday morning!

In summary, Pipers Gathering was truly a highlight of my summer and I can’t wait to return next year! There is a class or workshop for everyone, even non-pipers, and I encourage anyone interested to contact me or the board of the Gathering for more information (pipersgathering.org). I have found that the NSP community is particularly welcoming and freely giving of information and support to new players. This is not limited to the US pipers, I also found that to be true in the UK, when I visited the Rothbury Traditional Music Festival this summer!

Rebecca Connor

This will be the perspective of an ‘old hand’ who has participated in and helped to organize The Pipers’ Gathering over a period of several years. Although I was not involved during the years at North Hero, VT, I always enjoy hearing the many stories from those who were about what it was like, who was there, and what happened. In fact, it was a video hosted by John Walsh entitled “The Pipes Are Calling” which culminated in a visit to the North Hero Gathering that introduced me to the wonderful world of Northumbrian Smallpipes in the first place.

For me, the list of important things to experience at the Pipers’ Gathering includes the following: 1. To hear some of the finest performances of smallpipe music available anywhere in the world 2. To receive excellent instruction and learn something you didn’t already know 3. To once again visit with some very special good friends and to make new friends as well 4. To commiserate not only with other pipers, composers, publishers, teachers and instrumentalists but also with pipemakers from around the U.S. and abroad.

Once again, the PG organizers outdid themselves in providing an excellent event. For me, it was most enjoyable to once again have a chance to see Anthony Robb, to be in his class, and to hear what he has to say. [Aside: I did have one unfortunate experience while in Anthony’s class…I broke my chanter reed! Someone said ‘this calls for a lament’. If you happen to encounter the tune “Lament For A Broken Chanter Reed” wafting o’r the waves you now know its origin.] It is not difficult to see why he has been, over his lifetime, such a wonderful and successful teacher. He knows what to say and how to say it. His special class on historical perspective was a meaningful discussion about the cultural derivations of not only the music, the musicians, but also the characteristic dance. If cultural heritage is to survive, it will be because of the efforts of people like Anthony Robb.

Ralph Loomis

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