Brothers on the bagpipes – Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer

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The National Piping Centre is used to welcoming pipers from communities around the world but the visit of a group of monks for lessons was one of their more unusual teaching experiences.

The main form of music in the Papa Stronsay community, also known as the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer and the Transalpine Redemptorists, is Gregorian chant but three of the monks have been playing the chanter and are moving on to the pipes.

The order was founded in 1988 on the Isle of Sheppey in England but they moved to France in 1994 before settling in their current home of Papa Stronsay in the Orkney Isles in 1999.

Father Anthony, Brother Peter and Brother Seelos visited the Centre in Glasgow for some advice on the transition from chanter to pipes.
But instruments weren’t always part of their way of life. Father Anthony said: “Within our rule it was forbidden to play instruments, but because our original founder played the harpsichord it was permitted to play the piano and because we are in Scotland, we have added the bagpipes as well.

“Father Michael, our Superior, has a brother who plays the bagpipes. We had a piper leading our procession into the village when we first opened the house in Walsingham in England and again, when we moved to France, Father Michael’s brother played the pipes for our procession at the opening of the monastery.

“We have had those previous connections with the pipes and now that we are living in Scotland, Father Michael suggested it would be good to learn the bagpipes.

“I started learning about 10 years ago but due to too much work I stopped. In January last year Father Michael asked three of the brothers to start practicing every day, so we bought the book and chanters and now we have come for proper lessons. I also started playing again and I have been trying to catch up with the three brothers.”

Taking part in the course has encouraged them to try to step up their practice time, and like those outwith religious orders, it can be struggle to fit in playing the pipes or chanter as well as their other daily duties.

Father Anthony: “We don’t have a lot of time in our day for practice but we have learned a lot of things from this course and one of the things we will suggest is that our practice time increases every day.

“And there will be practical uses for our playing. We opened up a place in New Zealand a few years ago and we have a Marian procession every year. We have previously invited pipers from Dunedin to lead the procession but in the future we would hope to do that ourselves — and it certainly attracts attention.

“One of the reasons we came to The National Piping Centre was to help with our transition from playing the chanter to playing the pipes, and get someone to show us exactly how the pipes work — there is a lot of blowing.
“It is going to take us a while to get used to the bag and the pressure and eventually get a few tunes out.”