While many of us like to think that the Great Highland Bagpipe is the highest flowering of its particular musical form, we must admit that it is not the only one. Throughout history, many other countries and many other peoples have developed their own distinct bagpipes, each with its own particular body of music, and many of them are being rediscovered by 21st century musicians. The subject of this issue’s contribution to the North American Piper Series has taken up a medieval wind instrument that is wildly different, and he is presenting its music to a rapidly growing and appreciative audience.
David M. Jones, whose stage name is Drogo Wulf, was born in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1966 to James Jones, a master electrician and his wife, Lorraine, a homemaker. He was educated at Springfield High and Southern Tech. In addition to piping, Dave enjoys playing guitar, drumming, stargazing, ghost hunting and UFO research.
Dave graduated from High School in 1984 and served in the US army in Germany for three years. He then moved to Atlanta, Georgia to attend college. While there in 1994, he went to the Georgia Renaissance Festival. “I saw a medieval piper playing around the May Pole,” explains Dave. “I fell in love with the instrument and its music on that day. Since then I have played Highland Bagpipes, French Biniou Kozh and bombarde, Irish Uilleann pipes, Bulgarian Kaba Gaida, and now my greatest love, Jens Güntzel’s German medieval monster pipes.”
Dave began his study of piping with Dave Palladino of Cincinnati, Ohio. “Dave was the Pipe Major of the Cincinnati Caledonian Pipe Band,” Dave explains. “He was very strict and regimented. There were usually about eighteen ‘newbies’ around the table practicing basic chanter skills. Everything seemed to be going fine. Then we began to sight read, however, and some of us had no previous lessons in music theory or the like. Once Dave found out that we had difficulty reading the music, he told us we would not make it into his band because we would slow everyone down. Well, that put a bad taste in my mouth about Highland piping. Though I continued learning from a couple of other pipers there, it became obvious that I would still be unable to play in the band. I became pretty discouraged so I moved on after a couple years.”
Dave went to a number of Irish Uilleann piping workshops where he was able to study reed making and playing technique. “I met Tim Benson and watched him play Uilleann pipes. I was immediately hooked and shortly after I became a member of the Riley Irish Music School, studying there for two years. I was learning to play Irish tunes on tin whistle so I could later play them on the Uilleann pipes. I had to do it that way because at that time there was no pipe teacher available at the school.”
Dave’s first whistle teacher was Peter Suk. “My other teacher for intermediate whistle was the great John Skelton from the House Band. He was full of energy with a great sense of humour. His teaching skills were as amazing as his playing. He taught us how to lilt when we played, which is basically adding a rhythmic bounce that really makes Irish music what it is. It was like having the Colonel’s secret ingredient in order to achieve that unattainable great taste. I had never even heard of lilting before I met John. I also had a few sessions with French Veuze bagpipes and Bombarde. John is known as the greatest Bombarde player outside of Brittany. I learned a lot from him.
“I played whistle with the Riley Music School band, doing lots of local performances. It was fun, and there were many great people within the organization. As far as piping at Riley, however, I was on my own. I practiced a lot but never performed with the band or solo. Eventually, I left Riley because I felt I was not developing my piping as I wished.”
At that point, Dave got into more French piping. “I had a Biniou Kozh, a Bombarde and a Veuze all made by Michael MacHarg in Vermont. Biniou Kozh means old bagpipe. It has the smallest chanter of any pipes in the world and yet it is the loudest. It has seven holes. The pitch is an octave above the bombarde that it’s played with. Standard tuning is B flat but my chanters were all in G for the A minor tunes we played. They both tend to play a single melody line in unison, with the bombard player dropping in and out allowing him to breathe.
“I became interested in playing these when I saw and met Patrick O’Gorman from the bands Rare Air, Windbags, and Drones On. Rare Air started in the late seventies as Na Cabarfeidh, a celtic folk music group lead by Grier Coppins and Pat O’Gorman who were prodigies of the Highland Bagpipes but also played an array of other ‘traditional instruments’. They became quite popular and toured the world. They released one album under the name Na Caberfeidh and followed it up with five more under their new name, Rare Air. Windbags and Drones On were two other bands that featured the playing of Patrick O’Gorman. He and I still have a relationship over the web today. He’s a great friend and an accomplished musician.
“I tried to start a Sonerion, a group that is basically a biniou kozh player along with a bombarde player that play ‘call and response’ tunes. My personal favourites are An Dro and Hanter Dro tunes. (Note: An Dro is a Breton folk dance in 2/4 meter with an open circle formation leading clockwise. Dancers link little fingers with steps small and bouncy. Hanter Dro refers to the footwork, three steps forward and one back, not three forward and three back as in a Full Dro or An Dro from the Varnes area of on the south coast of Brittany. The dance is done in a circle or in an open circle or line, often for hours through the village during festival times. The Varnes area has many standing stone configurations from ancient times. Many believe that these dances were danced winding through the standing stones.)
is a Bagatelle Dance Troupe here in the Dayton area,” continues Dave. “I
was learning tunes to play for them while they dance. Unfortunately,
however, I could not find a bombarde player and I had to call it quits
“In 2005 I decided to form the first American band of this medieval genre, and currently we are rehearsing and working our show. We play 9th to 15th century medieval music. I have two hand drummers, one of whom plays a Tupan (a very large double-headed Macedonian drum) as his specialty is stick playing. Tupani are often played to accompany the zurla and gaida and are also played solo in some Macedonian folklore dances and songs. I found a second piper, Andy who is from the Celtic Rock Band, Mother Grove out of Dayton Ohio. We are known as Wulf, a band of barbarian/Viking brothers wandering the lands of America in search of wine, women and song. My stage name, Drogo Wulf is an imaginary name for a barbaric/Viking minstrel. Actually, it came from a Hobbit Name Generator when I put my real name into it.
“Our performances will not be tame,” warns Dave. “We have huge tribal drums, a gong, massive pipes, loud shawms and soon we’ll be adding the hurdy gurdy and talharpa. (Note: The talharpa is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe. It was formerly widespread in Scandinavia, but is today played mainly in Estonia, particularly among that nation’s Swedish community.)
“The music we play is very catchy, foot-stomping medieval dance music. We have incorporated belly dancers and fire arts into our program as well. I also host drum circles for the Cincinnati Tribal Drum & Dance group. This allowed me to learn a lot of hand drumming skills. We are building huge drum gallows/racks that will allow us to mount two bass drums, five toms, a kettledrum, two gongs, a plethora of cymbals, a plethora of hand drums and various other small percussion instruments. Once assembled for a “stage” performance, it will resemble a giant medieval cage with a massive black & gold Wulf backdrop to rear. It’s quite cool!
“The barbarian costumes are basically what the majority of the bands in Europe are wearing. We want to look ‘period’ when we play at Renaissance and Medieval Festivals, but we’re finding this is fun to do at local events around Cincinnati. People flock to see what’s going on. We adopted this look because it seems to add a bit of shock value and that appeals greatly to our audience.
“I played all of the instruments on my first CD, titled Feuertanz (which means Dance of Fire) which I completed last April. You can hear me on the net at:http://www.myspace.com/bagpipemetal. The group toured to promote Feuertanz, and we have plans to release a second CD by the end of the year that will contain original medieval-style piping tunes. Wulf will bring the medieval sounds of a thousand year ago to the present and perform it for people of all ages and types. Everyone we play for seems to love this music. We’ve played for Viking re-enactors, Rennies (renaissance re-enactors), Belly dancers, drummers and other musicians and it has the same impact on them all. It’s something new to them and they want to jump in and have fun with us. This could spark the inner European heritage of our brothers and thus a musical/cultural revolution could begin here in the states.”
Dave’s advice to young pipers: “become really close to your pipe maker. Check the quality of his instruments and make sure the support line is open. Be willing to try pipes other than Highland pipes. You’ll find a whole world of piping outside of Scotland. See which one(s) suit you.”