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Promoting the Bagpipe Revival since 1986

The Bagpipe Society

An Online Odyssey

On 4th March 2020, Roger Landes and I were wrapping up the last details of the fifth International Bagpipe Conference, due to take place on 14th and 15th March 2020 at Harvard University in Boston, USA. We had planned a wonderful line up of speakers, all presenting on the subject of bagpipes and diaspora, chosen in honour of our friends from the Americas, many of whom practice piping traditions linked to their heritage. Roger had also sorted a Saturday night session in a pipe-friendly Boston bar and a Sunday afternoon folk dance. Along with Panayotis League, we had also arranged informative demonstrations over brunch for Sunday morning and all of this was, of course, opened by a concert with a fantastic line-up at Payne Hall. The cherry on the cake was a bagpipe exhibition that Harvard Library had curated in our honour: the librarian had very kindly arranged a small welcome party with refreshments for the conference delegates. With all of these exciting events in mind, I ended our conversation online:

I have put £100 on each Facebook event. Press release is waiting for your quotes to be finished. Checking coronavirus travel bans and everything seems okay so far.

Twenty-four hours later, Roger, Panayotis and I decided to cancel the event. Two years of hard work were annihilated. We worked through the night (or afternoon for Roger and Panayotis) to draft and send out cancellation emails as well as update our website. The £100 I had put on the event were retrieved and we added a large red ‘CANCELLED’ sticker to the banner and poster.

A week later we sighed a breath of relief: Italians had been banned from the US, which would have prevented Nada Gitto, one of our speakers, from attending the conference. A couple of days later, Harvard announced that all events were cancelled and that their teaching would be transferred online. The day before the conference, Trump announced that there would be a widespread travel ban for Europe, which might have stranded some of our delegates wanting to go home. Although our decision to cancel had felt slightly premature and dramatic at the time – we were one of the first organisations to cancel everything at such short notice – every news article proved that we had made the right call. And just in time, as it turned out.

Thankfully, the presenters and delegates were patient and understanding despite their understandable disappointment. Michael Vereno felt particularly targeted: in 2018, he was due to present in Mallorca but the company he had booked tickets with (Air Berlin) went bankrupt just before the conference preventing him from attending. And here it was happening again: in 2020, Covid-19 shut down all events, including our much-awaited biennial meeting.

The team rallied a few weeks later, buoyed by the presenters’ interest in maintaining some sort of event. We had initially planned to organise another live event later in the year, but this was increasingly becoming wishful thinking. So we did what the rest of the world was doing: we turned to the internet.

Roger, Paddy and I met on Skype and decided that we would hold an online conference. We set the new date to 6 June 2020, in honour of the Blowout, also cancelled due to the pandemic. We were confident that we’d have most of our speakers and some of our audience available, as we were all in some form of lockdown. Despite this, several presenters were busy with exams and online concerts and unfortunately had to excuse themselves. This was disappointing, but we really hope that they will submit papers for our 2022 conference, when we’ll be celebrating our 10 years of existence. I introduced the US team to David Heath, who became our online event consultant. David Heath, a programmer, is also the co-founder of London Bal Folk and is bagpipe-friendly (he plays the melodeon and is a great waltzer). More importantly, our new ally organises Liberating Structures workshops and had been developing alternative online workshop formats that support interaction and networking. David helped us devise a warm and friendly online event that would allow presenters and delegates to chat and mix, just like one might in a real live conference. His input allowed us to relax as we worked with the presenters to alter their presentations in order to make them accessible for our new format: shorter, 15-minute slots and pre-prepared powerpoint presentations were the new rules.

Two days before the conference, we organised a short Zoom call with all the presenters. It was fantastic to see everyone online, keen to participate, as we went through the event’s details. An hour later, we were all grinning and excited about meeting up again on Saturday.

The Fifth International Bagpipe Conference took place on 6 June 2020 on Zoom. The event started in the afternoon, UK time, and early in the morning, US/Canadian time. The time differences increased my awareness about how big the US is: we were dealing with three timezones within Northern America alone! Add to this delegates from Austria, Belgium, Belarus and Sweden, and we were covering quite a good chunk of the world’s timezones at any given moment. Our main break was planned around supper or lunch, depending on where you were based, and regular pauses were organised between each session to allow time for everyone to top up their mugs with tea or coffee (or any other kind of fuel).

The conference opened with a few short introductory activities. We all pinned hearts on a map to show where we hailed from and changed our names to reflect the instruments we played. I recognised our presenters within the small Zoom boxes and it felt like an international piping family had come together, once again. Overall, about 50 people from Northern America, UK, Europe and Eastern Asia attended the event, really highlighting how international the conference was, and creating a wonderful community feeling throughout the day.

World map of our delegates. Some got creative, others got a bit lost, but we covered everything else from East to West.

By the end of the day, and thanks to David’s interactive organisation, we had all chatted to a variety of pipers, made new friends and initiated intense conversations both during question times and through the online chat, which allowed yet another simultaneous form of interesting interaction to develop throughout the day. We concluded the event with some music and invited David Faulkner, Michael Vereno and Marieke van Ransbeeck to perform a short tune each on their bagpipe of choice. The microphones behaved and we heard some great music.

Michael Vereno serenading the Zoom Crowd.
Marieke van Ransbeeck enchanting us with the musette baroque

After a short break, many of the delegates stayed on for an after-conference virtual piping pub. It was unfortunately not possible to get instruments out for an informal session, but folks had been posting bagpipe-related cocktail recipes online all day and it was now our chance to try some of them out, depending on what was in our cupboards. Seven hours after the end of the conference, as day was breaking in Belarus and Eugen Baryshnikau had drank his beer keg dry, we decided to call it a night, but not before finding out the Belarusian bagpipes had finally made it: MacDonald’s has developed duda-themed app, along with a promotional video featuring a pop star and two traditionally-dressed duda players performing in a sparkling white Belarusian MacDonald’s… Who needs the real thing when you can get a duda on a MacDonald’s app and 5 cents off a burger as well?

As I switched my computer off at 3am in the morning, after spending 14 hours online, I reflected that although I had not been able to shake any hands or clink my glass against that of a fellow piper, I had spent a wonderful day surrounded by passionate people, learned much about bagpipes and diaspora and met new friends. Our intensive planning had paid off, I felt. Scott Spencer, one of our presenters of the day, was particularly kind in his comments: “Thank you very much for all the effort, passion and time you put in to make this conference a wonderful success! Online versions of otherwise in-person events are incredibly difficult to make interactive, personal and communicative, and you and your team managed to orchestrate just that - an event that felt personal, and allowed both the formal and informal aspects of a successful conference to take place. This was invigorating, surprising and refreshing”. Thank you, Scott.

The 2020 online conference was, Roger, Paddy, David and I agreed, a resounding success. David Åsbrink, a first time attendee from Malmö, Sweden, was equally enthused: “This was the first conference for me, but certainly won’t be my last. Looking forward to the next one!” And Michael Vereno, who was finally able to present his work, was, thankfully, just as pleased: “A great alternative, superb work. Thank you!”

I would like to thank all the presenters, including those who had to drop out due to personal circumstances, for sending in your abstracts and giving your time to the bagpipe community. Thank you to the delegates for attending and participating in these wonderful conversations that don’t happen often enough. And thank you all for supporting us over the years. We hope to have an in-person event to celebrate our first decade in 2022 and can already announce that it will take place in the UK. More to come soon…

Long Live the Bagpipes, both online and in person!

International Bagpipe Cocktail Menu

RattleSkull by Roger Landes

  • 3 oz rum
  • 1 pint porter
  • Juice of one lime
  • Fresh grated nutmeg

Quarantined Piper by Vince Janoski

  • 2 oz single malt scotch
  • 1.5 oz dry vermouth
  • 0.5 oz sweet vermouth
  • 0.25 oz amaro
  • 1/2 tsp + a bit more of 1:1 mix of pomegranate molasses and simple syrup
  • Shake with ice. Strain. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel. 

Boring Drone by Arle Lommel

  • 1 part elderberry cordial
  • 3 parts ginger ale
  • Fresh mint

Marieke’s Minty Musette Experience by Marieke van Ransbeeck

A simply refreshing cocktail on a hot day… 

  • A few fresh leaves of mint
  • 30 ml / 1 ounce of elderflower syrup
  • ½ Lemon (make wedges)
  • 40 ml / 1 + ½ ounces gin
  • Tonic water to top up
  • Crushed ice and fresh mint and lime wedge for garnish

All the papers that were given at the online conference:

PANEL 1 – Bagpipes and Diaspora

Jason Busniewski Bagpipes, “Martial Races”, and Empire in the Central Himalayas

Michael Vereno On the Road : On the diaspora fate of bagpipers in and around Austria in the 20th century

Scott Spencer The NYPD Emerald Society Bagpipe Band and the Line-Of-Duty Funeral

PANEL 2 – The bagpipes as a material instrument.

Arle Lommel Towards a Feature-Oriented Account of Bagpipe Evolution and Taxonomy

Zexuan Qiao Employing new technologies in the reproduction of historical bagpipes

PANEL 3 – Diasporic movements

José Emilio Colón Ríos Cuban pipers: the spread of uillean piping in Cuba

Barry Shears Immigrant Bagpipes of Nova Scotia

PANEL 4 – Linking UK and Northern America through bagpipes

Vincent Janoski Decoding Forgotten Melodies: from the Piobaireachd Tradition Musical interpretation of forgotten tunes from the Campbell Canntaireachd.

Brian McCandless Rediscovering Northern British Bellows-Blown Bagpipes in North America

Erin Walker Under the Kilt: The Pipe Band as a Tool of Cultural Transmission

As you might have gathered from Cassandre’s account, the Virtual Pub session at the end of the IBO was something of a success so a new monthly event has been established. It is now open to pipers everywhere.

Dronehenge is a monthly “virtual pub” open to bagpipers around the world. Held on Saturdays starting around 15:00 GMT, a time equally inconvenient to those in Europe (for whom it’s too late) and North America (for whom it’s too early), the goal is to provide social interaction for pipers. Players (or aspiring players) of any type of bagpipe are welcome, although most participants so far have been from outside the Scottish traditions.

Each session consists of discussion, remote sharing of drinks, and demonstration of music. Meetings are held via Zoom and coordinated via a Facebook group Individuals interested in attending who do not use Facebook can send an email to Arle Lommel ( to receive notifications about scheduled meetings and call-in details.