In the Bag

Yentl Schattevoet aka the Dreadlock Piper is a Scottish pipe player from the Netherlands, currently living in that other bagpipe-loving county, Bulgaria. She took up the GHBs in 2005, and played with her local pipe band (now named Venlo Caledonian Pipe Band) throughout Europe at various festivals, tattoos and other events. Yentl also played and competed with the Stockbridge Pipe Band when she was studying a year abroad at the University of Edinburgh. Apart from playing her core repertoire of traditional, mostly Scottish, tunes and well-known crowd-pleasers, she was the metalhead piper of the (now split-up) pagan folk metal band Valknut.

In Bulgaria, the mesmerizing sound of the gaida can be heard everywhere, but there is no Scottish pipe band in sight! Therefore, Yentl started performing solo as the Dreadlock Piper. Her appearance does not go unnoticed, with her dreadlocks and traditional Scottish kilt. https://www.facebook.com/dreadlockpiper/

What bagpipes do you play?

I play the Scottish bagpipes, formally known as the Great Highland Bagpipes. I have been playing my McCallum set since day one and I am very pleased with it. It has a hide bag, and I recently started playing on the amazing McCallum McC2 Solo chanter. When I’m not playing the pipes, I practice on my

What led you to take up piping?

Folk and fantasy festivals have been an important part of my life. I frequent these events often, and it was due to the Celtic folk band Rapalje that I discovered that there is an actual traditional Scottish pipe band in my home town and I was enchanted by the distinctive sound of the bagpipes. I got in touch with this band, the MacLaren Pipe Band, and I was hooked after the first band practice. I still have vivid memories of my first gig at a local music festival, Zomerparkfeest in Venlo. It made me realize I had found my musical passion. Taking up piping has been a wonderful journey and it has brought me to places I would have never imagined I would visit. It is truly a joy to play music that is embedded in such a long and fascinating history. In a way, one is keeping a tradition alive as a meaningful expression of Celtic culture. It is amazing and humbling to be part of that.

Which pipers do you most admire?

Listening to grade 1 pipe bands and great solo pipers gives me goosebumps. It is a feast to watch the gifted Fred Morrison play with so much joy, or hear recordings of the late Gordon Duncan. The same goes for folk bands like Rapalje, Battlefield Band and Gaelic Storm. Bagpipe music is a living tradition that is continuously being innovated by talented pipers. I admire the attempts to connect the old with the new, and there are a few pipers who manage to adapt traditional folk to contemporary music without losing sight of the cultural roots. The brilliant musical compositions of the late – also dreadlocked – Martyn Bennett, and also Mark Saul and Chris Armstrong are good examples of this innovative spirit, but also bands like The Sidh, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Celtica. The same is happening in Bulgaria, where the gaida is part of metal bands such as Smallman and Khanъ. I really enjoy listening to those pipers and bands.

Name three, non-piping-related musical influences:

Bagpipes dominate my playlists, but I am also a big fan of folk music in general, and Celtic and Nordic folk in particular. My favourite bands include The Dolmen, Rapalje, Heilung and Wardruna. This music speaks to my soul and is often inspired by paganism and history. The primordial and mystical sounds appeal to me. Then there is metal. I am a huge Slayer fan, and I was lucky enough to see their farewell show twice. I enjoy listening to bands like Tool, System of a Down, Kittie and Korn – the latter also use Scottish bagpipes in their music. Lastly, there is the combination between those genres – folk, pagan and metal – like Heidevolk, Enslaved, Finntroll, Týr, Thyrfing, and Arkona. I played in a pagan folk metal band myself, and metal goes very well together with the pipes.

What three albums are top of your playlist right now?

As a Spotify, concert and festival enthusiast, I listen to a lot of music, so it is hard for me to pick only three albums. An album that is very dear to me is The Dolmen’s Live at Castlefest as it is dedicated to my father, who, together with my mother, never ceased to motivate me to play the pipes. That particular concert and album are therefore very special to me, and I can’t thank The Dolmen enough for this incredible heartfelt act of kindness. Heilung’s live album Lifa was also recorded at Castlefest. I am delighted that I attended both concerts, and they were mind-altering in their own unique way. The experiences and emotions of those performances come back to me when I listen to these albums or watch the videos. The album that has inspired me as a piper is Rapalje’s Spades, which contains the song Glen Coe – The Pumpkin’s Fancy – Crossing the Minch with piper David Myles. Rapalje often begins their live shows with this set, so every time I hear it I get excited. It reminds me of the joys of piping.

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

The bagpipes, no doubt about that!

Name your favourite music festival.

The fantasy festival Castlefest in the Netherlands has a special place in my heart. Many beautiful memories are weaved into this festival and the atmosphere is unique. The beauty of the festival is that everyone can just be their true self while being immersed in a world of living history and fantasy. Most people wear beautiful costumes, and no one raises an eyebrow when a Celt and a Viking feast together with a pirate and an orc. That’s the magic of Castlefest. It’s where all my passions come together – be it fantasy, history, religion or music.

What three words describe your piping style?

Traditional Scottish (and sometimes with a) twist.

Bellows or mouth-blown?

Mouth-blown.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs for sure! I believe cats are secretly plotting to take over the world, so they can’t be trusted ;)

Do you prefer playing, dancing or both?

Even though I do enjoy Scottish ceilidh and Bulgarian horo, I’m not a great dancer. I’d rather play my pipes, or watch other people play instruments and dance while I enjoy some whisky or rakia. My headbanging skills are excellent though.

Cane or plastic reeds?

Cane pipe chanter reeds have a much warmer tone and natural sound. It’s just the real thing, although tuning is more challenging compared to plastic reeds that are not so dependent on the environment. I have always played with cane reeds, but I am willing to try out plastic reeds to experience it myself.

What’s your greatest musical achievement?

Playing the bagpipes brings so many amazing opportunities that one

would otherwise not have had, and this goes even more for pipe band life. When I was playing with the Venlo Caledonian Pipe Band, we played for the coronation of king Willem-Alexander in 2013. With countless pipers and drummers from all over the Netherlands, the Band played with the renowned violist André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra. My greatest achievement was winning the last pipe band competition before I moved to Sofia and the Pipe Major granted me the honour of collecting the trophy.
What’s your most embarrassing bagpiping moment?

That would definitely be during my very first pipe band competition. It’s

a grave sin to play an ‘early E’ right after striking in the pipes. My Pipe Major used to tease me with the fact that I hadn’t yet gained complete control over my instrument. I was quite nervous during my first competition, and there was the early E again when marching to the circle… However, we were eager to win, so we gave everything despite the embarrassing start on my part. I’m glad we did, because we won first prize. Needless to say, my early E issue was solved not long after.
What’s the most annoying question you get asked about the bagpipes?

More often than not, people are quite fascinated by the instrument and I’m not easily annoyed by questions as folks usually mean well. What people often don’t take into consideration is that the pipes are LOUD. I get asked if I can please turn down the volume a wee bit. I haven’t found the volume control yet ;)

What advice would you give a novice?

Practice, practice, practice, a lot of motivation, discipline and patience. Moreover, I would recommend finding a good teacher, and preferably a pipe band. One should only proceed from the practice chanter to the actual bagpipes when at least a few tunes are mastered. Then, again, practice, practice, practice. One should never stop practicing technique, and also have clear goals in mind. Structured practice is the key. The bagpipes are not the easiest instrument around, but the beauty of it makes it all worth it. Festina lente and enjoy the ride. And practice.

I love bagpipes because…

It doesn’t matter in what shape or form, every bagpipe is a unique expression of a specific culture. There is nothing like the magic of bagpipes!

As told to Andy Letcher

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