Strakonice Piping 2006
(Mezarodne Dudacki Festival ~ International Bagpipe Festival)

Every two years an international piping event is held in Strakonice, about 60miles south of Prague in the Czech Republic. I visited in 2002 and again in 2006. Here are some pictures from our trip and a couple of relevant links.

You can enlarge each picture by clicking on it. Feel free to use these pictures for any non-commercial use.

A feature of bagpipes from around the rest of the world - and more specifically off the battlefield - is that the pipes maintained their links not just with other instruments, but also with dancers and/or singers.
The "national costumes" seem to be characteristic of this type of event, whether or not the musicians would actually wear them for performances at home.
Czech Band, click to enlarge
Having mentioned that "other instruments" are played with the bagpipes, it's only fair to point out that other cultures have traditions of a range of instruments not found in orchestras or mentioned in school music lessons. The national muic museum in Prague has an amazing selection of fiddles, many of which seem similar to Norwegian Hardanger fiddles - with a second set of strings running under the fret board. These Viol d'amour, or baritone violins (there seemed to be grey areas in the classification, but then I don't speak Czech) often had five melody and four drone strings or more. Well worth a visit if you're there, but make sure you go UPSTAIRS - downstairs was all classical stuff when we were there. The museum in Prague had amazing instruments
As an aside, when it comes to travelling in the Czech Republic, public transport is actually very good. If you use the motorways, you will need to buy a permit and if you use the rest of the road system you'll be fine so long as you look out for roadworks and potholes. If you go to Prague, though, you'll find parking is nearly as bad as in London, except that the option of the buses, trams and trains actually works. This is a shot of the Metro system which we used just for the sake of it as we had bought tickets to last us for the day. The Prague Metro system, click to enlarge
The festival itself is held in the old castle in the middle of town, although there are other venues, such as the Arts Centre (Dom Kultur), Summer Cinema (Letzni Kino), the local cinema and outside the shopping centre. The building on the left house the Bagpipe Museum and the restaurant is through the arches in the corner. There is also a late night bar cum beer cellar where this year a half litre of beer cost 15 Kr. The exchange rate was about 42Kr to the pound. Shorts were about the same. Did I mention Becherovka ?? Strakonice Castle, click to enlarge
The event begins with a procession through the town to the catle by all the participants. They stop and perform every hundred yards or so, which means that the trip of three quarters of a mile takes about two hours altogether ! To be honest, if you could see all of these performances, you wouldn't see much more by going to the individual shows, but hey, you're on holiday, the beer's good and cheap and a lot of the music is really good, if not exactly what you might be used to. The procession, click to enlarge
There is a lot of talk about instruments being revived, particularly bagpipes, across Europe. It was  noticeable that there were quite a number of local bands which had students who were learning at school or with youth groups. I couldn't pronounce, let alone spell the town this group were from, but they were from a place about thirty-forty miles away if I heard correctly. Youngsters on pipes, click to enlarge
I would have had some really good pictures of this group from Turkey if only my camera batteries hadn't been dying (Doh!) They had a crowd of about twenty five enthusiastic dancers who showed that it's not necessary to dance traditional music slowly .. Yes I suppose that's a bit of a dig at some morris dancers I know - you can see that where dancing has a social function and single men and women are involved the dancing is unlikely to be sedate. A Turkish pipe and dance group, click to enlarge
After the Turkish troupe, this Slavic group provided the opposite extreme. The dancing was much (much) slower, but with humour too, such as the dance which portrayed a warring couple, which ended with all dancers twirling slowly in time to the music clutching their ankles. Actually it bordered on the bizarre, with a discordant pipe pitch which was on a quite unique scale.
I wondered if it didn't provide one of the truest views of traditional rural music, although that might be condescending and pandering to inapprpriate stereoypes.
Slavic dance troop, click to enlarge
This group, Hailander appear every year and apparently have quite a following in their native Holland where they seem to enjoy some commercial success. They have a stage show which goes down well with the crowds and they certainly have a laugh in the bar afterwards. Listening to them as a highland piper, however, there seemed an almost total disregard for regular blowing which meant the pitch rose up and down continually. They didn't seem to feel it mattered and they're not playing GHB. It seemed rather too cavalier attitude to the music to me, together with extremely loose versions of melodies. Pleasant enough, though. Dutch group Hilander, click to enlarge
This band from Austria haad a very classical bent with an emphasis on singing. It was a very difficult take on music, where bagpipes are just one more instrument in an ensemble and the repertoire would be more easily recognised in a classical/baroque concert than a pub or dance hall.
Their music wasn't for me, but I was glad that there were people who wanted to play it, if that makes any sort of sense.
Austrian band, click to enlage
I wish I had better pictures of this band, the Real Banda de Gaitas de Ourense. They have taken part both times I have been and put on a really good show, as well as having a fine sound. Their pipes are slightly different to highland pipes, as instead of having two tenor drones, one is of a slightly lower pitch producing overtones which are different to those pipes which most of us will be familiar with. As well as pipes they have dancers and a lively percussion section which works wel, although I usually detest tambourines. The only question is why their female players seem to dressed as nuns ? They do look fantastic, though. Spanish band on the march, click to enlarge
Here the Real Banda are joined on the stage of the Summer Cinema (Letzni Kino) for the grand finale by the Neilston and District Pipe Band. These are also stalwarts of the festival, having come for the past twenty years or so. Unfortunately most of my pictures of this group are in the bar and it would be impolite to publish those. They were a good laugh though and we shared a few tunes.
A short while later they were joined by Kevrenn de Brest St Mark, a French band who combined pipes and drums with bombards. By this time my camera had died again. It is possible to use solar lights to recharge camera batteries, but not completely.
Pipes and Drums of Neilston & District and Real Banda, click to enlarge
Not exactly interesting to anyone who only wants to see bagpipes, but this is a record of our holiday and this is how we travelled. The round trip from London through Germany to the Czech Republic was 2,100 miles in total and the bike, a Yamaha XVZ1200 Venture Royale gave no trouble at all.
The trailer tent is a Raclet Minto and really does need an over-run brake for our purposes. Braking distances were a little like "Can you see that car ahead?" "Yes ?? Quick start slowing down !!" Maybe I exagerate.
Our sidecar and trailer, click to enlarge
If you want to see the official website, follow this link

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