Grace Notes

By:

Over the last few years, as editor of Chanter, I have tried to expand piping horizons by featuring bagpipes and traditions from across Europe and further afield. This is borne partly out of my own curiosity and interests and partly because I believe that bagpipes of all shapes, sizes and cultures deserve equal treatment and exposure to as wide an audience as possible. In doing so, I wonder whether I have neglected some instruments that are perhaps more widely known to the core membership of the Society. So, to equal the playing field, I am very pleased to feature the Northumbrian Smallpipes with an excellent article by Francis Wood and the subject of In the Bag is a Highland piper. The global reach of Highland pipes is well known, so it is particularly interesting, in another article, to find out how this instrument is transforming lives in the most difficult of circumstances in a country far from its native homeland. In reading through Francis’s article, I realised that, although I have known the sound and the music of NSPs for many, many years, I did not have an in-depth knowledge of its history and makers. I find it odd that on the one hand I spend much of my time promoting English bagpipes and the history of English bagpiping over its better-known cousin from north of the border but on the other, I actually know very little hard facts about one of the traditional bagpipes of this country. Time to set the record straight!

Many years ago I visited the excellent Chantry Bagpipe Museum in Morpeth and, judging from what I say above, I have clearly forgotten much of what I learned there! (In my defence it was over 20 years ago!) The museum has had a tough time keeping going and maintaining its premises and funding over the last few years and it is, sadly, not alone. Many museums, even large well-established ones, have found it difficult to find funding and maintain visitor numbers and these problems are especially heightened for those with a specialist focus, with the result that many have had to close their doors. It is therefore especially heartening to hear of a new bagpipe museum which has recently opened in France. Thanks to Cassandre Balosso-Bardin for bringing it to my attention and there is no doubt that it will be on my itinerary when I visit the country next year. As the recent article by James Merryweather and Ross Calderwood showed, there is still much to discover in our museums even when we think we know all about their collections. So please do visit the Chantry Museum if you are visiting the North East of England and, in fact, visit any museum you can whenever you can – you never know what surprises await!

This Chanter features several articles with Callum Armstrong as the focus – a review of the recent Halsway course with Matthias Branschke, a review of his new tune book by Jon Swayne and, finally, an article by the man himself on writing and arranging his music. I make no apologies for so much coverage! Callum is a rare talent and he is constantly pushing the boundaries of bagpipes and the repertoire which can be played on them. I have little hope of ever being able to attain his standards of playing and musicality but that doesn’t stop me from learning something that I can apply to my own playing and I find what he does inspirational. I hope you do too.

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