Polish Bagpipes


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Today in Poland there are 8 types of bagpipes played in 5 regions :-) [two other regions lost their last pipers around World Wars I and II :-(]. In the first four of these regions, the bagpipe band survived as the primary bearer of the musical tradition, playing for all dance occasions, and without which any traditional wedding would be incomplete; in the fifth region, it survived only as an isolated instrument, pushed out of common use by string bands in the late 1800s.

All these pipes have cylindrical bores and single-beating reeds.

All these pipes except for the bladder pipes (1c below) and the koza (5 below):

- have single base drones, housed separately from chanter;

- have chanter stocks with carved goat heads;

- have both chanter and drone pipes ending in curved wood or bone elbows and metal resonating bells;

- have tonic located on the chanter's 2nd hole from bottom (=3rd lowest note of the chanter scale);

- play in traditional bands of one fiddle & one bagpipe, with the fiddle playing an octave above the bagpipe; as in most traditional Polish bands, the fiddler is the lead--he starts the music, ends, regulates tempo, etc.

******The first two regions are in the western plains:

1. The Lubusz region (a small area of maybe 15 villages just west of the central western town of Wolsztyn) has two large low-pitched bagpipes, called "White Goat" (Koziol Bialy) and "Black Goat" (Koziol Czarny). They're also called Koziol Weselny and Koziol (or Dudki) Doslubny, both meaning "Wedding Goat," but referring to different parts of the wedding ritual (see below).

a) The White Goat is the usual all-purpose bagpipe, and since the WWI era has added an Eb clarinet to the fiddle/bagpipe ensemble. The bag has the white fleece left on for show, and has a bright red collar around the chanter stock. The chanter has 7 holes plus thumbhole, and is pitched to Eb; the bottom two notes of the chanter can be overblown to get two additional higher notes. The single drone is a bit collapsed in its middle by 3 short interconnected parallel pipes; it's cast over the left shoulder in playing so it hangs vertically down the player's back. The bag is bellows-driven. Music is slow to medium speed, with smooth, legato notes, and fiddle, bagpipe, & clarinet all play pretty much the same melody.

b) The Black Goat differs from the White Goat in that the bag is black leather (no fleece), is higher pitched (F, sometimes G), and its drone is full-length (no collapsed section) and is balanced horizontally across the left shoulder. It's traditionally played with a small home-made fiddle. In the last century it was a ritual instrument, played only during the first part of the traditional days- long wedding: it played through the wedding supper of the first day, and while it played, the music was payed for by the groom. After supper, the White Goat took over, and the music was payed for by the person requesting the dance. It went out of general use with the decline in traditional wedding rituals around WWI, but interest in it has revived in recent decades.

c) This region also has bladder pipes in different configurations (mouth-blown, bellows-blown), which are used by bagpipe students. They use the White Goat chanter but have no drones. (I've heard them 4 or 5 times, and they were always ghastly!)

2. a) and b) The Great Poland region (Wielkopolska) has a larger bagpipe area (over a hundred villages) south of Poznan, immediately to the southeast of the Lubusz region. The pipes here are smaller and higher pitched than the Lubusz Goat. There are 2 varieties of pipes: a northwest type (around towns of Koscian, Buk, Opalenica) and a southeast type (around towns of Gostyn, Rawicz), although some hybridization may be going on. The pipes (called Dudy, probably from Turkish duduk) differ in size & hence pitch (north Bb, south C#, some central counties use B), elements of construction (e.g. north has a spiral drone horn and partially collapsed dronepipe, south has an elbow drone horn and fully collapsed dronepipe), and style of playing (north more legato, south heavily staccato). Both types have a squareish bag covered with a protective cloth outer bag, often made of decorative fabric with fringe sewn into the seam. Chanters have 6 finger holes and a thumb hole. The drone pipe is fully/partially collapsed by 3 parallel segments connected by metal tubes, so its functional length is pretty short; it dangles over the left arm during play. The pipes are bellows-blown.

The southern players are especially noted for their skill in brisk staccato playing--using very heavily closed fingering so notes come popping and bubbling out. Formerly, the music was quicker and bubblier in the south, and became slower and more legato as you moved to the northwest (passing into the Lubusz piping area), but I'm not so sure that's still true today: the players I've heard from the northwest sound pretty much like the southeastern ones. I guess bagpipe competitions might have encouraged the northern players to change their style.

The fiddles in both north and south are unusual in that they have a piece of wire wrapped around the neck (like a guitar capo) at about the fifth position, so the fiddlers can easily play an octave above the bagpipe (commercial fiddles replace older smaller homemade fiddles). This gives the fiddles their characteristic high-pitched, squeaky sound. The fiddle and bagpipe in a typical band play in close unison, both following pretty much the exact same melody and ornaments. Usually they've played together for years and have developed a precise way to play each tune. The fiddlers double stop constantly, and use triple stops for accents (e.g. start of musical phrase).

Although the usual band is a pair of one fiddle and one bagpipe, in the early 1800s pipes did play together. There's an oral tradition of a 100-member band from the early 1800s. Today, larger bands of 5, 6, or 7 pairs exist in some of the towns.

According to a southern piper I talked to in 1980, the bagpipe band was still the norm for wedding receptions at the time, at least for the first 4 or 5 hours of dancing. After that a modern rock or whatever band took over.

*******The next 2 regions are in the southern Beskid mountains.

3. The Silesian Beskid Mountain area, southeast of the border town of Cieszyn, involves today only 3 villages in Poland (Istebna, Koniakow, Jaworzyna) and one ethnically Polish village (Herczawa) just over the border in the Czech Republic. (Around WW2 they were also used in border villages in region 4; don't know if that's still the case today.) The bagpipe (called Gajdy, probably from Turkish ghaita) is large, low-pitched (Eb), bellows-blown, the bag sometimes has the fleece left on the outside, other times is bare. The chanter has 6 finger holes but no thumb hole; the full-length drone pipe, decorated with inlaid metal designs, is balanced horizontally or diagonally over the left shoulder. The chanter stock often is saucer-shaped, although carved goat heads are also common, and the drone stock usually has a vestigial goat head (a suggestion of horns and eyes).

One village has added an accordion to the usual fiddle/pipe band [:-(].

These pipers often play harmony while the fiddle carries the melody. They also sometimes lapse into an "oompah" kind of playing to keep the beat for the fiddler. They sometimes sing to their own piping while playing slow, free-style songs, something no other region allows. (At a festival, I once asked a Wielkopolska piper why they never sing while playing, and he said they just don't; the next time they performed, he suddenly started to sing in the middle of a tune, and the other members of his band all turned to him with such shocked and furious looks on their faces he clammed up immediately. I looked for a hole to crawl into.)

4. The Zywiec Beskid Mountain area is across the river from region 3, and lies south/southeast of the town of Zywiec. It encompasses over 30 villages in Poland, with a dozen or so (still ethnically Polish) over the border in Slovakia. The bagpipe here (called Dudy) is identical to the Gajdy of region 3, but is pitched to F, is mouth blown, and has a thumb hole in addition to the 6 finger holes.

The music here is the "wildest" and most inventive of all the bagpipe groups--the musicians take the most liberties with the tunes they're playing. Both fiddler and piper will begin improvising all around the melody as they play (especially slow, free-meter songs), so that listeners who don't know the tune well can become utterly lost. Often the musicans will engage in lots of body motion: bending back, leaning forward, looking around, swaying, keeping time with their whole bodies.

A unique characteristic of this area is "pumping the bag." While the fiddle carries the tune, the piper will begin to strike the bag with his elbow in rhythm to the tune so the chanter and drone give out short and long single notes to keep the beat; the better players keep fingering the chanter while pumping so a skeleton of the melody is still played. In regular playing style, the pipers tend to use trills a lot, also frequent thumb-blips.

Several folk ensembles have combined the traditional 2- member bagpipe band with a local folk flute and a base fiddle to make a 4-member band.

************The last region is at the foot of the southern Tatra mountains: a very different type of pipe.

5. The Podhale area immediately north of the Tatra Mountains contains 50-ish villages. The bagpipe here (called Koza=goat, NOT Kobza, as reported and popularized by intellectuals in the last century) is very different from other Polish bagpipes, but has more in common with some historic Central European pipes and contemporary pipes of Hungary and central Slovakia.

The chanter is a short and stubby, has a carved goat's head at the top, and has 3 channels in one piece of wood:

-the left bore has 5 holes with a plugged outlet and is the chanter proper;

-the right bore has 1 hole with a plugged outlet and is an alternating drone and/or the bottom note of the chanter scale; and

-the bottom bore has no hole with an open outlet (of course!) and is a steady drone.

There is also a separate base drone pipe that hangs down or sticks out across the left forearm or shoulder in playing. Neither chanter nor drone have elbows or resonating bells.

The tonic is located on the single hole of the right bore. The pitch varies, but a Bb instrument would involve Bb base drone, F bottom bore of chanter, Bb right bore of chanter, C-D-E-F-G left bore of chanter.

The bagpipe/fiddle ensemble was probably used here until the mid-19th century, when string bands took over the dance and song music and pushed the bagpipe out of prominence. It survived only as a marginalized solo instrument, played by few people for their own pleasure, and nearly died out in the 1920s/30s, but folkloric interest kicked in and kept it alive. It is still a solo instrument today, but there are some efforts to recreate the bagpipe/fiddle bands of years past.


Text by Joe Armata
Pictures added by Snori

The Pictures was taken by different photographers during First Polish Bagpipers Meeting in Zbaszynek, 1998.


Copyright: Paweł Dziemski 1998, 1999, 2000
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