It was early morning when I trundled down the mountain to Gallicano to catch the 8.41 train to Lucca. We had been enjoying some lovely warm spring like days in Barga but the forecast for the day was for northern winds with snow. Everyone was wrapped up well in the lovely wee station and there was tension in the air: a deep seated, palpable (and vocal ) concern about the cold.
It just confirmed to me how much the weather affects the feelings and consciousness of a people, something we know only too well in Scotland.
I was on my way to Isernia, to The Italian Spring School of Scottish Piping at the invitation of the generous and inspirational Duilio Vigliotti. If this (and the wonderful hospitality, food and wine) weren't enough there was a bonus in store: a visit to the mountain village of Scapoli which is at the heart of the Zampogna tradition in Italy.
These polyphonic bagpipes are undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment. Have a look at the images of the amazing two chantered and one droned bagpipes to see at last the reason for their name.
The Journey continued smoothly with a quick change in Lucca, a bit of a wait in a biting and thin wind in Florence , a cup of welcome coffee and a sandwich in Rome and very relaxed final leg to Isernia.
The trains in Italy are truly a proper and not a pretend public service. They run on time, are clean, the cheapest in Europe and are very user friendly. They are an incentive for anyone to use them and are wonderful. What a contrast to the Scottish situation. I would encourage someone with influence from Scot rail to take a cheap flight to Pisa and travel about a bit (Rome, Naples, Florence,Milan,Sienna) to see how its done. Nae Problem !
Isernia was amazing. I was in the company of Simon McKerrell and Margaret Houlihan along with four students of The R.S.A.M.D. who are nearing the end of their degree course in Traditional Music. There were over a dozen Italian students and I was asked to give a couple of workshops / teaching sessions (using my small pipes) in my style of playing. The weekend was packed with activities, wonderful food and wine, good tunes and company.
Mike Paterson, The Editor of Piping Today (The Official Magazine of The National Piping Centre in Glasgow) and I spent quite a bit of time together and sorted out a lot of today's problems in the piping world as well as the world in general, for that matter.
On Sunday afternoon we took a four hour hike up to the mountain village of Pesce. We had admired it the evening before as the setting sun transformed it into a warm glowing peach. Mike had been writing that afternoon for Piping Today as I had witnessed Scotland winning the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield. No such victory this last weekend in Rome against Italy as the game was literally thrown away. No need to mention names but why does he keep getting picked.
It was an arduous trek to Pesce but worth it. The old town had almost been carved into the cliff face so that from a near distance the buildings seemed only two dimensional.
The streets are so steep, narrow and winding that it makes the Via di Mezzo seem like the main highway linking Rome to Florence! We made it back safely after the walk and after yet another beautiful meal were treated to a Sunday night of wine tasting in old Isernia where we sampled fine red Italian wines every bit as good as the best claret from Bordeaux.
It was still cold on Monday morning and as we climbed into the mountains we witnessed clouds hugging the snow covered tops and a raw air assaulted us when we left the warmth of our cars. Scapoli is a fairly typical Italian mountain village but us the day progresses we came to understand its real significance.
The Zampogna is one of the vast family of related European bagpipes and its traditions were carried by shepherds who would, in the off season, (when the sheep were not demanding time and attention) travel and play in return for some money and hospitality. The instrument and its repertoire (much of which was associated with Christmas) remained largely stuck in a time warp until recently when, in particular, two players have been developing its repertoire and techniques.
We were treated with visits to a prominent maker's workshop and two bagpipe museums. In one of the museums we were given a concert with one of the leading players and learned of the modern developments of the instrument from these very fine makers. As in Scotland with the revival of the bellows blown instruments, the makers have to be working hand in hand with the players in research and development.
I found the whole day profoundly interesting and will take with me happy memories and a newfound knowledge and experience.
I have long since been interested in trying Olive as a timber in the manufacture of Border Pipes or D Small Pipes and learned not only that it was possible but was one of the woods of choice for Zampogna making . I can see a couple of sets being made in Barga from Olive if I can lay my hands of enough musical instrument quality wood.
The safe and happy return to Barga saw no let up in over indulgent eating experiences and tied the Zampogna's strange name with what has become my favourite meat dish since arriving.; A trip to Eva's Restaurant for lunch and what was on the menu: my favorite : Stinko !
Benvento. Welcome Home.
Postscript.Zampogna derives its name from an Italian word which means "pig's legs
"Stinko is a traditional dish of boiled pig shank
Hamish Moore 20th March 2008 – The sixh article from Hamish Moore – the premier small pipes bagpipe maker in Scotland now working in Barga as artist in residence 2008 – all of his articles can be read here