Juris Lipsnis, member of the board of the Suitu cultural heritage of the Alsung society, head of the folklore group Suitu bagpipists, participated in the 6th International bagpipe conference, which took place on 11-13 took place in March in Newcastle, Great Britain.
The trip to the conference, which is held every two years by the International Bagpipe Organization (SDO), took place with the support of the Latvian State Cultural Capital Fund in the project implemented by the Society Suitu Kulturas Mantojums (SKM) Participation in the 6th International Bagpipe Conference and a recital Latvian Bagpipes – Dūdas or Somas Poles. The conference was held in Newcastle University’s King’s Hall.
In March of this year, the International Bagpipes Organization is celebrating its ten-year anniversary, and it has been decided to hold its sixth conference in Great Britain – the same place where the first one was held. Already in the second half of last year, applications for readings were announced. I received an invitation from ILO President Kassandra Balbaras to submit my topic as well, says J. Lipsnis. I am not a professional researcher, but I am very interested in everything related to bagpipe playing and the history of this instrument, moreover, I was encouraged by my colleagues from the SKM association – preserving and developing the tradition of bagpipe playing is one of our priorities. We have already held a meeting of Latvian pipers in the Suiti four times, and when preparing for these events, we had to delve into the facts of the history of the bagpipes both in the Suiti region and Latvia, a lot of information was also obtained from the guests of the meetings – each time we invite a lecturer who is very knowledgeable in our field .
Traditions can be revived
In my presentation, I had included an insight into the history of Latvian bagpipes, which is quite old, as it goes back to the 16th century, when news about bagpipes as the peasants’ favorite musical instrument appears in the chronicles, but at the same time, drawing parallels between the situation in Latvia and the Suiti region, I wanted to show that a tradition that seems to have completely disappeared is nevertheless revivable as long as there are people who are passionate about it. As is known, the bagpipe game disappeared in Latvia, because in the 19th century the so-called the brotherhoods (Herrnhutians) systematically destroyed this instrument, especially in Vidzeme, because they believed that the noise it made was not from God, but from evil, while later bagpipe music was pushed out of circulation by violins and harmonicas, whose sound was more stable and wider. Only in some Catholic areas of Kurzeme, especially in the Suiti region, as late as the 20th century. In the 1930s there were pipers, the best known being the alšvandz player Pēteris Šeflers (1861-1945), whose playing was immortalized in 1935 in the first Latvian sound feature film “Dzimtene sauc jeb Kāzas Alšvanga.
The playing of bagpipes in Latvia resumed in the seventies of the last century, when some enthusiasts from the folklore group Skandinieki got a couple of Estonian bagpipes and started using them in their performances. Another 40 years had to wait for the restoration of the suite bagpipes.
Around 2008, when an inventory of preserved and lost cultural values was carried out during the preparation of the application for the inclusion of the Suiti cultural space in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, the Suiti community concluded that, unfortunately, bagpipes have been irretrievably lost. However, similar to the case of Latvia, there were people who thought differently – at the beginning of 2013, the dean of the Sui Catholic congregation Andris Vasiļevskis gave the Sui community bagpipes made by Eduards Klints, but today about 1% of the population in Alsung plays bagpipes (13 out of 1300 Alsundz residents). What is more important – bagpipes are not only played in Alsunga, but gradually we have also made them.
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