A handful of fortunate pipers gathered in La Veta, CO on Sep 23-25, 2016 for the 3rd annual Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat. This retreat focuses on “alternative” bagpipes, commonly known as Scottish smallpipes, border pipes or lowland pipes. These pipes were predominant in the Scottish border (or lowlands) region with England. We generally refer to them generically as “smallpipes”, but there are distinctions which we won’t attempt to cover at this point.
The smallpipes are similar to their big cousins, the Great Highland Bagpipes, but also very different. Great Highland pipes are typically found in military-style marching bands. We’ve all watched these awesome sounding pipes, and colorful pipers, in parades and at special occasions. Smallpipes share the same musical “fingering”, that is, a person who plays Great Highland Bagpipes will use the same finger movements to create similar notes on the smallpipes. Great Highland pipes are typically in the key of B flat. Smallpipes are also generally powered by bellows. That is, a bellows provides the air for the pipes, vs. mouth-blown as is found with Great Highland pipes.
Smallpipes are typically played either solo, or with other instruments. They are found generally in the key of A, C or D which makes them compatible to play with fiddles, guitars, whistles, flutes, etc. And, their volume is much lower. They’re made to play indoors, seated with a group of other musicians. Smallpipes have been experiencing a resurgence over the past few decades and a number of excellent smallpipe makers have carved out a niche in this market.
The Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat is, to our knowledge, the only “alternative” pipe retreat between the east and west coasts. Sponsored by the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival, the Pipe Retreat brings the best of traditional musicians to teach students who want to expand their skill. Most smallpipers start out as Great Highland pipers, but find that they’d like to play at home, alone, or try their hand at playing with other instruments.
At the 2016 edition of the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat, instructors (and phenomenal artists) Jerry O’Sullivan and Ben Miller taught two groups of students. Both worked on technique, tips and increasing tune repertoire.
The 2017 Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat is already in the planning stage!