Bagpipe players aim to make lots of noise

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The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Features and Music Editor

THEIR skirl has stirred the heart of red-blooded Scots for generations.

But a group of musicians is setting out to show that you don’t need to come from north of the border to play the bagpipes.

Up to 60 pipers, playing instruments from around the world, will descend on Oxford next month for International Bagpipe Day

The event, on March 9, will take place at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses a world-renowned collection of bagpipes. And they will be showing that it isn't only the Highlanders who can be proud of their piping - with instruments coming from as far afield as Sweden, Galicia and Greece.

As well as demonstrations of musical traditions, there will be talks by experts, storytelling, makers’ stalls and a chance for visitors to have a go themselves.

Among those encouraging music-lovers to open their ears to the sound of the pipes is Phil Powell, from Cumnor, a founder member of the Bagpipe Society.

He said: “Most people think bagpipes are Scottish but that is not the case at all. While the great Highland pipes have become synonymous with Scotland, bagpipes are played all over the place.”

Mr Powell, 75, who learned to play the English bagpipes 23 years ago, added: “Most people have no idea what English bagpipes are and ask stupid questions like ‘where is my tartan’.

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“But there is a long urban tradition here and people would have heard them being played on the streets of London right up to the 19th century.

“We want people to see how wonderful they are, and see more people playing them.”

Also among those taking part will be Mano Panforreteiro, who teaches piano and the bagpipes in Oxford.

He plays the Galician bagpipes – known as the Gaita – from northern Spain.

Bagpipes hit the headlines in Oxford five years ago, when busker Heath Richardson prompted a petition from residents who didn’t want him to play in Cornmarket Street due to the noise.

But Mr Powell insists the instrumet’s fearful reputation for cacophonous racket is undeserved.

He said. “They do have a bad reputation. But while the great Highland pipes have a dissonant sound that doesn’t suit everybody, we want to show that the sound of bagpipes is exotic, beautiful and lilting. When people come and hear it, they’ll be hooked.”

Andy Letcher, who plays the English pipes, is organising the event. He said: “We’ll have some small pipes for people to try out.

“There is a steep learning curve and beginners aren’t going to get much more than a squeak out of them, though once they master the basics they can make them sound nice quite quickly.”

The free event runs at the Parks Road museum from 10am to 4pm.


  • While the great Highland bagpipe is the most famous, bagpipes were traditionally found all over Europe, in North Africa, the Middle East and India.
  • Among the most beautiful are the Northumbrian pipes. Oxford has the highest number of Northumbrian pipers outside the North East.
  • The Miller in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales played the bagpipes, while Henry VIII collected bagpipes and employed several pipers in his court.
  • Famous pipers today include Kathryn Tickell, Evelyn Glennie, Alastair Campbell and Bob Dylan.
  • International Bagpipe Day is organised by the Bagpipe Society, which aims to promote the diverse bagpipes of Britain and beyond by bringing together makers, players, dancers, historians and academics.

Comments (1)

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5:20pm Fri 22 Feb 13

Myron Blatz says...

After the threat of Ed Milliband becoming Prime Minister, surely bagpipes must be the next most-hated 'weapon of mass hysteria' known to personkind - especially that bloke who used to play in Cornmarket Oxford!
After the threat of Ed Milliband becoming Prime Minister, surely bagpipes must be the next most-hated 'weapon of mass hysteria' known to personkind - especially that bloke who used to play in Cornmarket Oxford! Myron Blatz
  • Score: 0

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