Summer Days: the 15th International Bagpipe Festival in Strakonice, south Bohemia

The days of autumn are upon us now here in the Czech Republic but today's Spotlight takes us back to the days of summer, specifically a mild day in late August. The location is southern Bohemia, the town of Strakonice, with a history and ancient castle that go back to the 2nd half of the 12th century. Outside the castle walls a medieval fair is taking place.

To one side there is a row of stands offering various curious items for sale: you can visit a craftsman manufacturing candles from beeswax, see a blacksmith hammering coins on an anvil, or bargain with a man selling specialised hunting knives. Rings, trinkets, jewellery, it's all there, even a decorated stall to one side, where a wizened lady and her tattooed companion will read your future - for a price.

The summer fair, however, is more than just another medieval-style attraction - in fact, it is a prelude to a bigger event, a celebration of music that has been taking place every other year in Strakonice since 1967. It's the biannual International Bagpipe Festival - this year is the 15th time it's being held. And, if you're into bagpipe music than Strakonice is quite simply the place to be: the International Festival is appreciated by musicians and visitors from all over Europe: over a three-day period ensembles from places like Turkey, Poland, and Austria shall perform.

The MC of the bagpipe festival invites us to the opening concert, about to be kicked of by an large ensemble from Bretagne...

soon followed by a childrens' ensemble from Bulgaria...

but my favourite has to be the Hopf brothers from Germany who have been performing together for years, and writing original bagpipe music with many classical elements. For me they stole the show.

What do you think of the instruments, of the sounds?

Young woman: "It's fantastic!"

Are you a big fan of this kind of music, bagpipes and so on?

"I also play bagpipes!"

You do?

"I started this year..."

What inspired you to begin playing?

"In Austria - I am from Austria - it's really rare and therefore, maybe, that's the reason I like to play it because nobody knows anything about it."

Young man: "I've been playing for a few years and I like the sound and the atmosphere."

Yes, it was certainly a wonderful atmosphere indeed. But, bagpipes were not the only instruments at the festival - during one of the breaks I wandered back down to the castle walls, where I noticed a stand I hadn't seen before, selling wooden instruments - recorders.

The sign reads that Slovak folk instruments and I'm standing here with...

"Milan Rusko."

Milan Rusko...Tell me about some of the instruments you have here today; you have got different bagpipes, some wooden recorders...

"First I want to point out that it's not me who has made these instruments, these instruments are made by Mr Tibor Koblicek, who is a well-known master in Slovakia, working in this field, making instruments for dozens of years..."

" we can see two bagpipes, here are the typical Slovak folk instruments called fujara, which you can find only in Slovakia. Fujara is a recorder which is nearly two meters long and it has three finger holes. You use over-blowing technique to get the whole scale..."

"...fujara can be made from different woods, for instance from the rose tree, and this one is made from a cherry tree. Generally it is made from the wood which in Latin is called Sambucus Nigra."

One costs about 7 or 8,000 crowns...

"Fujara is a hand-made instrument and it is very nicely decorated, it takes a lot of time and it must be a good artist. It is really not easy to make a good and nice fujara - the prices in Slovakia are much lower than in Western Europe - that's the reason why we can sell it for this price here. If we were in a western country the price would be at least two times higher."

I believe it... Finally, show me just a couple more instruments, some of the smaller ones here, perhaps your favourite.

"One of the most common instruments in Slovakia is the six finger-hole shepherd's recorder, but this type of instrument can be found in India, in Peru, all over the world, and it's always the same instrument. Also, it's the same instrument as the recorders from the renaissance period. From medieval times, very, very old and very good - we call them pistalka. We also have recorders without finger-holes, and only the hole at the end of the instrument that is used for fingering; only the over-blowing technique is used to get higher overtones."

That's lovely, thank you very much.

And that's it for this edition of Spotlight, hope you enjoyed it: the next Strakonice festival is in 2004 and it's definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.