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~ Special Feature ~
A Brief Report on Tionol 1999
San Francisco

This annual gathering of Irish piping aficionados (and enthusiasts of other bagpipes, pennywhistles, and in the end most anything that makes music) alternates between San Francisco and Seattle. This year it took place in San Francisco, hosted by the San Francisco Pipers' Club. Two days of workshops, on the weekend of February 13 and 14, were punctuated by a public concert on Saturday evening.

The workshops were held at St. Phillip's School in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco. This writer was only able to be present on Saturday, and thus the workshop photos below are from that day. The focus - as usual around bagpipes - seemed to be heavily on reeds. Sean Folsom, Ted Anderson, Andreas Rogge, David Quinn, Dick Hensold, John Gallagher and other pipers and pipe makers had the cane shavings flying as they gave instruction and made & adjusted reeds for a steady stream of pipers, most of whom left smiling, finally having found help after untold lonesome hours of what some of us call "the reed horrors." Meanwhile, any number of pipes - mostly Uilleann pipes but also Northumbrian Smallpipes, a Hungarian Duda and even a Tunisian Zukra - filled the air, often simultaneously, with an astonishing array of not always harmonious, but always interesting, sounds. This happy chaos continued into early evening and ended for many with a dash through a typical Northern California winter downpour to the site of the evening's concert.

In the past the concert has been held at a commercial club across the bay, but this year it took place at the church of the Noe Valley Ministry, in a large upstairs room with a stage, sound system and a seating capacity of about 250. Although the evening was inclement the hall quickly filled to capacity. The program, MC'd by Sean Folsom, began with Sean's presentation of the history of the bagpipe during which he played pipes from North Africa, the Czech Republic, Italy (accompanied by Ted Anderson on the oboe-like Piffero), Germany and France. He also lured the masterful player of the Bulgarian bagpipe Hector Bezanis from the audience, who made the air fairly crackle with a powerful small gaida of a sort I hadn't seen before. The main program began against the background of this wonderful half-hour introduction, with the first of four pipers being Uilleann piper and pipe maker Andreas Rogge, who had flown in from Germany for the event. He was followed by Uillean piper Todd Denman, past president of the San Francisco Piper's Club. Next came Dick Hensold from Minnesota, playing the Northumbrian Smallpipe in a performance which included some interesting history of that instrument and its music; Dick is a representative of the Northumbrian Musical Heritage Society.

At this point the stage was briefly seized by pipers' ancient competitors, fiddlers; Kate Reed (who was long ago a member of the now near-mythical "Golden Toad") and her group "The Woodchippers" had come up from Los Angeles to save us all from our obsession with bagpipes. Their lively and expert Irish fiddling was well received and appreciated, but I'm afraid we're beyond salvation.

After an intermission which ended with MC Folsom piping everyone back to their seats with a French Cornamuse, Jimmy O'Brien-Moran took the stage for the remainder of the concert. Jimmy is the "real thing" - an Irish piper from Ireland, who was brought to San Francisco by the San Francisco Pipers' Club for this performance. He played, as expected, beautifully - on an instrument made sometime before 1833. He also enlightened the audience with some charming stories about Irish pipers and piping and was altogether a great pleasure to hear and see.

The only problem with the evening was that it ended too soon. I for one could have listened all night (as some did, I gather, at subsequent parties). I'm not qualified to remark on the nuances of the various performances, but I will say that to my ears each was superb. Each of these pipers has his own distinct style, but to me there is nothing to choose between - all were simply outstanding. If you have the chance to attend one of these sorts of events, don't miss it - you'll hear things that you'll never forget. - O.S.

(I'm sure I've overlooked some things in this brief report and would appreciate any corrections or additions. There were many people involved in putting on this event who are not mentioned here. Also, I apologize for not having pictures of everyone - if someone sends along more photos I'll happily add them to the gallery below.)

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  • ~ an Irish goat?
  • ~ Ted Anderson (rear center) at the reeds ...
  • ~ A bed of nails...
  • ~ Pipemaker John Gallagher making reeds...
  • ~ Dick Hensold & Sean Folsom...
  • ~ Before the concert...
  • ~ Sean & Ted on stage...
  • ~ Mr. Potatohead!
  • ~ Hector Bezanis
  • ~ Andreas Rogge
  • ~ Dick Hensold
  • ~ Jimmy O'Brien-Moran

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Photographs & Text Copyright 1999, Oliver Seeler,