Upper Potomac to present 6th annual Piper’s Weekend
Upper Potomac Dulcimer Fest has established a small, but unique niche in the music world, as it hosts its annual Piper’s Weekend Jan. 6-8. The weekend, held on the Shepherd University campus, features a variety of bellows-blown bagpipes from England, Ireland and Scotland and takes place in a quiet, retreat setting, allowing players to learn from some of the best pipers in the country, share tunes, trade secrets and expand their knowledge in this relatively arcane aspect of traditional music.
The bellows-blown bagpipe is a quieter, more parlor-oriented cousin to the great highland bagpipes most folks are familiar with. The pipes are far more likely to be played with flutes, guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis, drums and other instruments in a session-like atmosphere for concerts or dances in smaller, more intimate settings.
There are four kinds of bagpipes featured, the Scottish smallpipe, the quieter cousin of the great highland pipes, the Irish uilleann (or Union) pipes, Northumbrian smallpipes and the Border pipes which are played in the border region between Scotland and England.
Instead of filling the bag of the pipes with a big breath from the mouth, these pipes are set up to play with a small set of bellows tucked under one arm, with a bag to hold the air squeezed under the other. The air flows through reeds into three kinds of pipes: a chanter, which plays the melody; drones which play a constant note in harmony with the melody and regulators (on the uilleann pipes only) which add ornamental pops and squeaks that accent the melody. With all of these things going on, these instruments are quite a challenge to play.
These instruments are seldom played alone. To make the tune sharing more fun and lively, classes in Irish fiddle, flute, hammered dulcimer and mixed-instrument repertoire have been added that are friendly to one or more varieties of pipes to round out the weekend, and make it possible for friends and families to attend together.
The weekend begins on Friday evening with a Piper’s Round Robin in the Cumberland Room at the Student Center. This offers a combination of open mike, jam session and show-and-tell. Since there are no mass producers of these instruments, all pipers are intensely curious about other player’s pipes, who made them and how they work. This style of evening allows novices and professionals to share information together in an informal way and get to know each other at the start of the weekend.
Saturday and Sunday are divided into workshop sessions of two-hour lengths in technique and repertoire with breaks for meals, shopping at the fest store and lessons. The private tutorials with these highly esteemed professionals is what brings many of these students to the workshop. The classes themselves are small, but the one-on-one sessions are very valuable for improving technique and fine tuning their instruments.
Saturday evening is a more formal concert with the weekend staff, at Shepherd University’s Reynolds Hall, followed by informal jam sessions back at the student center where folks can play tunes together.
The weekend is presented by the Upper Potomac Music Weekends, started 24 years ago by Nick and Joanie Blanton as a gathering for hammered dulcimer players, but the range of programs has grown to include hammered dulcimer weekends, a Celtic music weekend, a fiddle retreat and the piper’s weekend.
The weekend staff of seven includes our four featured pipers; Jerry O’Sullivan, EJ Jones, Bob Mitchell and Dick Hensold who each play several kinds of pipes, flautist John Skelton, and percussionist, Matthew Bell. Classes include four types of bagpipes, Irish flute and bodhran, with classes on all of these instruments as well as repertoire from Scotland, England, Ireland and Brittany for all instruments.
The Saturday evening concert has an admission cost of $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for children or students.
Attending evening jam sessions is free but donations are welcome to help cover facility costs.
For more information, call the Upper Potomac office at (304) 263-2531 or visit the website www.squeezethebag.info.