Pipes of peace
This August at The Lorient Interceltique Festival in Brittany will again be ‘The Year of Scotland’. I’ve been lucky to have attended and performed at the annual Lorient Interceltique Festival on seven different years and as well as making a huge impact on my musical development, it also profoundly impacted my personal view of the world.
The Lorient Interceltique Festival was founded in 1971 and is dedicated to promoting the cultural traditions of the Celtic nations and people from Brittany, Galicia, Asturias, Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and now the entire Celtic diaspora from Canada to New Zealand. Each year, a different country has the honour of being the main focus of the festival and this year sees Scotland assume this honour for the first time since 2007. From small beginnings the Lorient
I KNEW A COUPLE OF I DIDN’T IRISH TUNES BUT EVEN KNOW PIPES BRITTANY WERE PLAYED IN
festival has now grown to over 750,000 visitors to see 4,500 performers over ten days. The Lorient Interceltique Festival is known to have been a tremendous influence to many pipers over the years including Gordon Duncan and Fred Morrison as well as well-known groups such as Capercaillie and The Old Blind Dogs.
My first time at the festival was in 1995 where as a raw 16-year-old Scottish piper I was invited to participate in what was then ‘The Macallan’ Piping Trophy (now The McCrimmon Trophy), a very prestigious invitational competition for only 12 pipers coming from the Scottish, Irish and Breton traditions. It is a uniquely challenging competition where each piper has to play three times in three different styles - a Scottish March, Strathspey and Reel, an Irish medley and a Breton medley.
At that time, I was essentially focused on Scottish competitive solo piping and although I knew a couple of Irish tunes from Terry Tully’s music books, I didn’t even know there were bagpipes being played in Brittany and I’d never before heard any Breton music. Irish music and Scottish music were in most ways sim- ilar in technique and idiom but Breton dances were completely different.
To prepare for the competition, the festival organiser gave me a cassette tape of a typical Breton medley around four weeks before and I did my best to learn it by ear. I turned up at Lorient that August and was introduced to a Breton piper who subsequently told me I was playing it all wrong. Too late to change now I competed in the three different contests and I can’t remember exactly how I did, but I certainly didn’t win the competition or even place in the top four.
However, I did win an amazing experience of ten days of total immersion in music and culture from around the world. I learned new tunes and played with pipers from Galicia, Asturias, Brit-
tany and Ireland – I’d never even heard the Galician Gaita before. I learned that most of my Scottish traditions were in fact shared traditions with similar people from across the world and I learned that although we all came from different countries and spoke different languages, music and bagpipes brought us all together in harmony. As a young 16-year-old from Falkirk, my eyes had been opened to the world. As people we had much more in common than differences and we should celebrate and appreciate our differences.
In recent years, we’ve seen the bagpipe scene become even more international and diverse and one of the things I love about the whole bagpipe world is that it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how big your house is, pipers are judged only on how well they can play the tunes.
At a time in our history where politics are driving nations apart, I really wish the whole world would learn to play the bagpipes.
Lorient Interceltique Festival - 4-13 August 2017
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Image: At Lorient 12 selected pipers have to play a piece of Scottish, Breton and Irish pipe music.
The Lorient Festival is a piping melting pot that attracts 4,500 pipers from different traditions Words Stuart Cassells