Lorient Festival Going Ahead this Weekend/ Piping Among the Bretons – A History, Part 3

The world’s biggest festival of Celtice music is about to get underway in Brittany, France, but in a much-diminished format. Scottish Organiser Tom Johnstone told Piping Press: ‘It is on but very much reduced.

‘For Scotland we have no pipers or pipe bands also no dancers. We had two folk bands at first and it was cut down to one but they have pulled out due to the self isolation requirement on return.

‘There will be the parade on the first Sunday (August 8) but it will be confined to the stadium. As far as I know the bagadou [pipe band contest], which is normally held on the first Saturday, will be a concert rather than a contest.

‘There will be one main concert each evening including Mike McGoldrick and Carlos Nunez. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the festival (postponed from last year) and is the last for Director Lisardo Lombardia.’

More information here.

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Now we stay in Brittany for the conclusion of our article on the history of Breton piping taken from the ‘Piping World’ magazine of 1968…..

While there is strong evidence that, at one time, it was usual to make a trio of the ensemble (binou koz and bombarde) by the addition of a drum, for some time prior to World War II it seems not to have been considered essential.

Commonly, in playing for dancing, both piper and bombardist sat in chairs set upon barrels or a table. The barrelheads or table top provided a ‘drumhead’ on which the musicians played their own percussion accompaniment with their feet.

Some ‘sonneurs de couple’ feel the want of a drum, but must await the selection or development of something that fits in; a pipe band drum would not be suitable for this kind of music.

The bagads [Breton pipe bands] have borrowed heavily from the Scots in their drumming, and many bagad musicians feel that too much has been borrowed and used too literally and that as a result the drum accompaniment presumes a Scottish character in Breton music which simply is not there.

The seriously creative among them are writing settings designed to bring out the true character of the tunes. While the music of the Bretons is patently Celtic (and recognisably so to the Scots or Irish piper), it has a softer, more ‘songlike’ quality than does most Scottish pipe music.

While there can be little doubt that, in most cases, the ‘sonneur’ (as both piper and bombardist are called) has been initially interested in his instrument by its Breton cultural significance, there is no apparent link between the piping movement and the Breton separatists. The emphasis among the sonneurs is definitely on the music itself.

Since the summer of 1946, ‘piping camps’ have been held, a well regulated ‘certification’ programme is maintained, district and ‘Brittany wide’ competitions are held often, and a plan is afoot for the establishment of a permanent Skol ar Biniou [School of Piping].

Pipers Polig Monjarret and Dorig Le Voyeur, two of the early enthusiasts for the binou bras (Highland pipe). Polig dedicated his life to producing a seminal collection of traditional Breton music. His composition, Lament for Jef ar Penven, has been performed by many Scottish pipe bands and folk groups

A vital part is played by a pipers’ association, ‘Bodadeg ar Sonerion’, whose magazine ‘Ar Soner’, combines the functions of a newsletter and a general piping publication with articles on the maintenance of the instruments, background stories on pipe tunes (including piobaireachd), the publication of tunes, etc.

The hallmark of the Breton sonneur is ‘youth’. The elders of the movement, many of whom are the ‘traitors’ who introduced the biniou bras, are, for the most part, middle aged men.

Since the ‘renaissance’ did not really become effective until after the war, the first crop of learners is not now much above thirty years of age.

And at home, Bodadeg ar Sonerion leaders are hard at work planning activities which will appeal to the older player because they recognise the danger that, in such a situation, piping could become ‘kids-stuff’.

Photographs in ‘Ar Soner’ show groups of clean cut teenagers. The infrequent obituaries to be found there deal mostly with accidental deaths.

While most other piping communities would envy the Bretons their wealth of young blood, this ‘accent on youth’ is not without its disadvantages to the Breton piping scene.

The lack of job opportunities in Brittany obliges many young men to emigrate, and unless they settle where there is a flourishing piping community, they are likely to abandon their instrument.

Here, certainly, is a thriving corner of the piping world, one with many lessons and inspirations for us all.

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