Yesterday was International Bagpipe Day and we pilgrims led the charge in our area. Tom had spent the week leading up to it in a different Cheshire church each day working with local school pupils in total to explore the musical heritage of the county. There was music, dance, pilgrims' processionals, storytelling and modelling clay versions of the medieval carvings of bagpipers in those churches. In total we worked with 239 children to introduce them to the instrument in its many forms and got a good feature in the local press too. Not wishing to miss an opportunity to promote the bagpipes, Tom also gave a presentation to the Friends of Weaver Hall Museum, exploring the role of the piper through history and folklore.
Then as International Bagpipe Day dawned Tom was at Stretton Watermill, meeting with friends to welcome in the day of piping with some medieval melodies to mark the many connections between millers and bagpipes, not least Chaucer's bagpiping miller in the Canterbury Tales.
After a few tunes it was off to Chester's Grosvenor Museum to lead a workshop for visitors to discover the bagpipes. We met with Chris Coe, a maker of uilleann pipes from Chester who was demonstrating reed making as well as displaying the making of a chanter in all its stages from timber to finished article. We added some tunes and folk tales and the chance to have a try. The workshop brought several local pipers and would-be pipers out of the woodwork and we're looking forward to meeting them again soon.
Then we headed to the south of the county to the beautiful market town of Nantwich where the church of St Mary's has a wonderful collection of 14th century carvings of angelic musicians in its quire. Angelic, except for the bagpipers who have been depicted instead as devils. We repeated the workshop in the very friendly Nantwich Museum to a large, and very appreciative audience, and I suspect may have inspired a few people to take up piping - there were certainly lots of detailed questions being asked about how to go about ordering sets of bagpipes. Sometimes I wonder whether this is inspiring people, or rather corrupting their minds as most people who start piping soon get hooked to the point of obsession.
After Nantwich we returned to Chester to set up for a sell out evening concert 'Bagpipolorum!' at St Peter's church, right next to the Cross in the heart of the city. This was a wonderful experience, entering the concert with all the musicians in procession playing one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, 13th century pilgrim tunes from Spain. It was a delight to play medieval tunes and share folk tales in this ancient church and to listen to wonderfully talented pipers and musicians including the Time Bandits, Halfe Pannikin and Jon Turton.
To draw the day to a close us bagpipers headed off to the cosy Albion for a session with some English and Welsh bagpipe tunes and to be dazzled by Jon, Chris and Ian playing some Irish tunes with blurred fingers on their uilleann pipes.
We can't wait for next year's International Bagpipe Day, so we're very pleased that it's not too long to the Minstrels' Court in Chester, on Saturday 16th June at St John's Church. Hope to see you there!