Friday, 30 September 2016


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12thC piper Hexham Abbey

Went to a lecture last night about Northumbrian smallpipes. The guy brought some examples with him, some dating back to the early 18thC and after explaining the principles and how they functioned, then went on to play some traditional Northumberland airs and jigs. Very nice. A young girl behind me muttered, ‘music for morons’ but it is what it is, gentle solo music which creates a distinctive mood of romance or nostalgia.
Unlike Scottish bagpipes the musician doesn’t blow into the chanter, he or she has a small set of bellows which is tucked under one arm and that provides the air which provides the drone. The pipes still have a bag to hold the air provided by the bellows and the player still needs to keep the bellows going throughout the tune, but one suspects the effort is considerably less for the Northumbrian musician than it is for a Scottish piper who has to use his breath to keep the bag filled.
It is relatively speaking a simple instrument which lends itself to simple tunes but there is still a lot of refinement to be found by the best players. Music for morons? Well, Mozart it ain’t but there is room in my vocabulary for a wide variety of music and styles. Want to hear it? Click here.

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