Friday, February 23, 2007

Gaitas, bagpipes, etc.

Left: chanters in A (smallpipes) ,Bb (highland practice chanter),D (scottish smallpipes) . Below: gaitas I play from top to bottom, galician gaita , gaita medieval en D, scottish smallpipes in A.
Gaita is the spanish word for bagpipes but more properly is applied to spanish style bagpipes. In Spain gaitas are a traditional instrument found more commonly in the northern regions such as Galicia and Asturias. These regions and bordering areas in Portugal and Castilla, plus Catalunya have style instruments of their own. In Latin America the gaita was carried along mostly by asturian and galician peoples. Nowadays, the gaita is found in many cities of the southern cone countries and it seems to get a new popularity revival by other people that has been intrigued by its sound for celtic, religious, and folk music. Nevertheless, even today gaitas and gaiteros are a rare sight. For example, in my own town, Valparaiso, neighbouring Viña del Mar and surrounding towns there are close to 1 million souls and as far as I know no more than 16 asturian pipers, perhaps a dozen galician pipers, and only one scottish plus one irish uilleann piper. In my case I am more a collector than a real player, just a student currently playing three gaitas (above): a galician gaita in C made at xeito de Corral , a medieval gaita in D made by Argayl, and a scottish smallpipes set in A made by Dunfion. Gaitas are tricky and need steady care.... My Galician pipes use natural cane for the reeds (palletas) whereas the smallpipes plastic material, but for the instruments themselves, the reed, the bag and the chanter are the key to play a decent axe. Nevertheless, availability of good instruments is extremely limited and as far as I know besides some pipemakers in Argentina, most gaitas are brought from Spain or assembled as sets in Chile and Argentina. The main differences among all the styles of traditional pipes found here are on the puntero (chanter), the melodic oboe of the gaita (first photo above). The galician gaita has an open fingering conical bored puntero with a range of one octave and a half. Smallpipes have a cilindrical bore chanter with the standard one octave range. Scottish practice chanters are conical with a narrow reed. British style bagpipes such as highland warpipes, smallpipes and uilleann pipes are a rather unfrequent sight vis a vis spanish style gaitas in countries such as Chile and Argentina.