Locals blown away by Strakonice bagpipe festival

Bagpipers from Bulgaria, photo: CTK

Musicians from all over the world descended on the Czech town of Strakonice at the weekend for the biennial International Bagpipe Festival, which was first held there in 1967. The town of Strakonice is an ideal location for a festival of this nature, as it is situated in an area that is considered to be the heartland of the age-old Czech bagpiping tradition. It is also the reputed birthplace of Svanda Dudak, the fabled globetrotting piper of Czech legend.

Bagpipers from Bulgaria,  photo: CTK
The Strakonice International Bagpipe Festival is intended to give bagpipers from various countries an opportunity to meet up with each other and to present their national piping traditions. It is one of the biggest events of its kind. This year it has attracted pipe bands from 14 different countries and altogether around 900 musicians have been performing at the festival.

Radio Prague spoke with some of those who made the trip to Strakonice at the weekend about their interest in bagpipes and asked them why they had come to the festival:

"When I was really young I came here with my parents and I fell in love with Scottish Highland pipes at this festival. I decided then - as a small young boy - that I was going to play the Scottish Highland pipes. So I have to be here as it's part of my life."

There are plenty of perfectly good Czech pipes as well. What in particular attracted you to the Scottish pipes?

Photo: CTK
"That's a good question, but the answer is very simple. It's like being with a woman. You might love some woman and yet you can't explain why. It's really just an emotional thing. I fell in love with Highland pipes, so I play Highland pipes. I like Czech pipes, but I didn't fall in love with them."

Around the world, bagpipes are most closely associated with Scotland, but isn't it fair to say that there is also a very long tradition of Czech bagpiping?

"There is a very old tradition, especially in the region where Strakonice is situated. It's like the 'heart' of piping. For example, we had army pipers here until the First World War. We have had many pipers. English speakers might be interested in knowing that in the 1920s there was a competition between Scottish and Czech pipers and that this competition was won by a man named Bilek. He was crowned 'King of the Pipers of the World' and he was a Czech from Pilsen!"

"In the States, every major city has three or four pipe bands. I come from a strong Irish family, so we went to all the St. Patrick's Day parades and events and everything related to the Irish. Therefore by the time I was eight or nine years old there was something going on neurologically with me that made me go to my Dad and tell him I wanted to learn how to play the bagpipes."

Is there any difference between the Czech bagpiping tradition and the Scottish-Irish tradition?

"There's a big difference. I think the thing that is nice about Czech bagpipes is that you can sing along with them. They have such a low volume that you can play tunes and sing in tandem with them. I think it's a more 'folklorish' instrument."

"I play bagpipes in a band from Brittany. The first time I came here was in 1994. This is my fourth time here. It's a very beautiful festival. The most important thing is to meet musicians and bagpipers from different countries, and to exchange music and talk with them. All the pipes are different, but the music is very interesting. There are various sounds and tunes. It is quite interesting. Something magicial happens here at the festival. It's magic."