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Making bags of sound
HEAVENLY chorus or ear-splitting cacophony?
The bagpipes can divide opinion like few other musical instruments.
But on Saturday you would have struggled to find anything but wild enthusiasm for them at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum.
Scores of musicians, makers, fans and experts descended on the museum of curiosities to celebrate International Bagpipe Day.
And they were keen to show that, though still largely associated with Scotland by most English people, the pipes are truly international instruments.
About 60 pipers from around the world showed off bagpipes from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa – and even merry old England.
As well as demonstrations of various musical traditions, there were talks by experts, storytelling, makers’ stalls and a chance for visitors to have a go themselves.
One of half a dozen musicians who performed on the museum’s balcony, Cassandre Balosso-Bardin treated visitors to a rare demonstration of Mallorcan bagpipes.
The unusual sound – very different from that made by Scottish bagpipes – quickly drew a large crowd of curious museum-goers.
She said: “Bagpipes are my long-lasting passion, ever since I was 13, and I never get tired of them.
“It is one of those instruments you either love or you hate. There’s really nothing you can compare it to.”
The museum houses a world-renowned collection of bagpipes and organiser Andy Letcher, who lives in Oxford and plays the English pipes, said it was the perfect venue for the event.
He said: “The aim for today was to inform people and let them know about all the types of bagpipes that exist.
“There are 132 different kinds and they come from all over the world – we have Turkish pipes, Iranian and Libyan pipes, the list goes on.
“It really does bring communities together to have us all gather because of this instrument.”
Downstairs in the museum’s basement, stalls of bagpipe makers showed off pipes of all shapes, sizes and colours.
Julian Goodacre has been making and researching bagpipes for more than 27 years and has recreated English pipes, which had disappeared altogether.
He said: “There has been a big resurgence in making and playing bagpipes throughout Europe over the last 30 years.I think it is part of a renewed interest in old crafts and sustainable ways of living.”
Trying the bagpipes for the very first time was eight-year-old Elizabeth Harvey from Headington.
She said: “I liked playing it, but it was hard and I wasn’t sure I was making the right sound. It was either very high or very low.”
Her mum Claire Harvey, 49, said: “I would be very happy for her to play the bagpipes if she wanted to – she could wake her dad in the morning.”
The museum had about 2,300 visitors on Saturday, 500 more than normal.
International Bagpipe Day is organised by the Bagpipe Society.