Musicians gather in Harpers Ferry for bagpipe festival

November 30, 1999|By ERIN JULIUS

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. ? Musicians from around the country gathered at the Hilltop House Hotel on Saturday to indulge their love for traditional music and wind instruments.

Joanie Blanton organized the inaugural Upper Potomac Pipers Weekend. Most of the 50 students who attended Saturday's classes played some type of bellows-blown bagpipes, although some flute classes also were available.

The musicians didn't play the typical Scottish bagpipes, but "smaller, quieter cousins," Blanton said.

The uilleann pipes, Northumbrian pipes, border pipes and Scottish smallpipes are indoor versions of the bagpipes.

Pipe music is undergoing a "real renaissance," Blanton said.

She has seen a lot of interest in Celtic music recently.

"There are a lot of new pipers," Blanton said. "A lot of young pipers."

Pipe music especially is popular for weddings and funerals, but the sound is making its way into folk music as well, Blanton said.


Ian Lawther, a musician originally from England, instructed a small group of men in the art of the Northumbrian pipes, an English instrument.

As he played, Lawther's arms pumped the bellows and bag to force air through the pipes' reeds. Lawther said he was aware that he looked like a "demented chicken" dancing.

The Northumbrian pipes are the "sweetest, most sophisticated bagpipes," and give the musicians the ability to play in different keys, something most bagpipes don't allow, Lawther said.

Northumbrian pipes became popular in Europe because they are "more dignified" than Scottish bagpipes, Lawther said. Blowing into bagpipes stretches the cheeks out, he said. With the Northumbrian pipes, the bellows move the air so musicians don't have to blow.

Suzanne Grobbel, of Martinsburg, W.Va., signed up for flute lessons during the pipers weekend because she heard that Chris Norman would be the flute instructor.

"He has really astonishing technical skills that I wanted to get a closer look at," Grobbel said.

Recording for the soundtrack of "Titanic" is Norman's biggest claim to fame. He taught Grobbel "wonderful, boring, technical stuff," she said.

Melanie Climis, also from Martinsburg, has been playing the flute for more than 40 years. But only recently, she became interested in Celtic music, she said.

Pipers weekend was a nice opportunity to play with some new folks and trade tunes, Climis said.

The event culminated in a concert Saturday night, which gave the instructors an opportunity to really show what they can do, Blanton said.

About 50 musicians attended the festival, some from as far away as California and North Carolina.

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