Thursday, January 20, 2011

Northumbrian Pipes

Very few people play the Northumbrian small pipes. Even fewer are interested, and that is in Northumberland (my home county) back in England. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I found a Northumbrian Piper on Vashon to play with. There is even a North West Small Pipes Society based in Tacoma, and I get to hear them all the time. One of the best exponents of the Northumbrian Pipes, a chap called Ian Lawther, moved to Seattle a couple of years ago, and I caught up with Ian at a strange tartan celebration in Puyallup, of all places. Ian has a business selling piping CDs, and was doing a brisk trade when I stopped by his booth.

I've always wanted to play this instrument, but it is probably one of the hardest to master. In order to play a note, you have to lift a finger off the hole (or key). In order to play another note, you have to close the previous hole before opening up the new one, which is what gives the pipes and the music that is written for them, their distinct staccatto sound. My ever patient wife tracked some down a few years ago and gave them to me for one of my birthdays. Since then, I have successfully failed to get a tune out of them, and they lie in their case gathering dust bunnies.

One of Alex's heros, is the former Northumbrian Piper I mentioned at the beginning of this ramble. Piper John, as he is known to Alex, has been encouraging him to try. Last week, after getting out of his bath, (Alex, that is), he loudly proclaimed that he was going to be a Mommy Piper. We set about getting him kitted up so he could at least have some chance of success with one of those ambitions. The pipes are too big for him yet, but at the rate he is growing, he'll be playing at the sessions in no time.


  1. What amazing good fortune to find a Northumbrian piper so close to home. Kismet, or something like it. And it's lovely that Alex wants to learn to play. Good luck!

    Miss W x

  2. I have necer heard of that. Are the pipes like the scottish bagpipes?

  3. Hi Sue, The only similarity is the bag you squeeze under your arm, oh and the drones. The chanter is completely different. Google Ian Lawther or Kathryn Tickell to hear them:)

  4. I love Northumbria ... It is stunning. My oldest friend is from Whitley bay so I to spend a lot of time up on that coast line ... Bloody cold in the winter here xx

  5. That's great he wants to play! I love Northumberland too. I haven't been for ages but a friend has just bought a cottage he's offered to lend us. I'll find out where it is. Have a fantastic weekend xx

  6. 'probably one of the hardest to master'......You may live to regret this early fondness for the pipes.......perhaps some small ear plugs to go with the big smile of encouragement...good luck!!

  7. love your blog! =) if you want to visit mine you can at

    look forward to seeing you there! =)


  8. Its a small world isn't it. I've heard they're quite difficult to play but starting young Alex has plenty of time.

  9. Good luck to Alex, sounds very hard.

    Not sure if this is your style but, I love to read your blog and for that reason I've listed you as an award winner on my blog... swing by sometime and pick it up.


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