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Promoting the Bagpipe Revival since 1986

The Bagpipe Society

Grace Notes

Welcome to this Bumper Edition of Chanter! It is, I think, the largest edition of Chanter to have ever been published. As editor, I was in enviable position that so many excellent articles had been submitted I was having difficulty in deciding which ones would be held back for the future – so I have resolved the issue by simply putting them all in! A big thank you to all the contributors. That doesn’t mean I can rest on my laurels as the “reserve” pot is now dry! For the next edition I am planning an Iberian Special. If you have any views, thoughts, research, pictures on anything from Portugal, Spain or the Balearic Islands then please get in touch with me as soon as possible.

When I first started playing an instrument in my early 20’s, I was concentrating so much on trying to get to grips with the technicalities of the music and trying to produce something vaguely representing a “good sound”, that I didn’t really give a thought to the instrument I was playing, how it had been made or who had made it. I simply expected it to work and play in tune – and when it didn’t, I simply put that down to my inadequacies as a novice player. It wasn’t until I met Eric, my husband, who has spent the majority of his life making instruments for a living, that I began to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears – and high levels of craftsmanship – that lies behind any good musical instrument. I also discovered that not every instrument is a good one and not every instrument will play in tune, despite the best attempts of the player. I also know that, even after a lifetime of making, Eric is still learning about the instruments, still discovering ways of improving intonation and still discovering more ways than he would ever want to know about how a reed works! I know from talking with other makers that he is not on his own.

All of us in The Bagpipe Society play on instruments that have been made by an individual craftsman. The fact that we are able to pick those instruments up and play them is down to a small group of dedicated people who put a huge amount of time, energy, love and learning into the development of their craft and their instruments.

So it is with particular pleasure that in this edition of Chanter there is a range of features and articles that deal with some of the aspects involved in making our instruments work and play well. Andy Letcher’s question about the bore taper has elicited responses from three well-known makers, and their different responses and approaches to the question begins to give you a flavour of some of the complexities involved in a seemingly simple question. American Charles Wines, a name which will be new to many, introduces the thought processes involved in making a new model of bagpipe and Matthias Branschke, the young German maker, gives us another technique from his workshop. We also hear about the welcome addition of a new maker of the musette de cour (which will be of interest to a number of people who have contacted me asking for a maker of this instrument) and James Merryweather ponders on tuning and temperament issues. However, the main feature is from Sean Jones who has written a fantastic article on all aspects to be considered by the amateur maker when embarking on making their own bagpipes. Thank you Sean! This edition contains much more than the technical aspects of the instrument, there’s a very rare feature on highland pipes as well as a visit to Belguim and an article from Pieterjan Van Kerckhoven about his group, the Boudon Collectif. I was lucky enough to see them perform last year and their playing was sublime.

The first weekend of June is, as always, the Blowout and this year promises to be something special and we hope that there’s something to entice everyone to come along to this event. If you’ve not been before, then this is the year to attend as it’s the 25th anniversary and, as ever, there’s a fantastic line-up. Jonathan Bynoe has been delving into the archives and has contributed a wonderful summary of the last 24 events.

This year there’s a special workshop feature – and it’s to be decided by you! What sort of workshop would you like to have at the Blowout? Read the Blowout feature and get your ideas in to Ian as soon as possible and we will do our very best to ensure that the majority view wins out.

Last but not least from me – don’t forget that 10th March is International Bagpipe Day! This is your day for going out into the wider world and playing your pipes. Play them in the street, play them in the local pub, take them to the local school and demonstrate them, tell everyone you meet about them – or simply play them for your own enjoyment and pleasure and know that someone, somewhere else in the world is doing exactly the same thing as you. Have a look on the Facebook page for news and post any ideas and photos to the site.

You may remember the wonderful carving of the bagpiper on the rear cover of Chanter, Summer 2016. It is one of 96 figures on the flying buttresses of St John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch in The Netherlands. As well as the one already featured, there are another two pipers which are reproduced below. Thanks to Society Member, Alan Radford, who has alerted me to the fact that there is now a website  which shows all of the figures. Although the cathedral was built in the mid-16th century, the carvings only date back to the 19th century building restorations. How accurately they copied the originals is an open question.





Thanks to another Society member, Kate Billmore, who sent in the photo which is on the rear cover, together with lots of supporting information. The bagpiper is a detail from a much larger panel depicting the annunciation to the shepherds. It is dated circa 1340 and was made by an unknown English embroiderer working on Italian velvet. It formed part of an exhibition at the V&A called Opus Anglicanum which closed at the beginning of February, so sadly there is no longer a chance to see it. However, full details about the panel it came from are on the V&A website at: