Leather bag with four wooden sticks. There are wholes on the sticks, eager, impatient, anxious. Man and bagpipe. They are inseparable in their embrace, in creating the magic of the sounds.
Shiroka laka has humbled the white of its houses and the red of its roof in the dusk. That's what the hills around the village awaits: the village becoming quite, so that they can spread the song:
In the autumn I got sick, my mother,
In the spring I shall die, my mother,
when the forest comes into leaf.
My beloved daughter,
what, my daughter, is most precious for you
most precious and most beloved?
My mother, oh my mother,
it's my little son
He's gonna lose his mother.
He's gonna live without his mother,
who has given birth to him.
The bagpipe falls silent as if suddenly broken. The eyes of bay Dimitar Grivnin go out as well as his breath. Years ago he endured a lung-operation and now he can play just 3-4 minutes. But years and years back it was different...
“ Years ago it was different. I played until I forgot myself. I was a shepherd and when I started playing... I just used to keep on playing until my lips and fingers got tingles... The sweetness of our bagpipe, the kaba, is enormous. You know, “kaba”means “sweet, tender”-however it requires strength.
It is not like the bagpipe from the Shopian (Sofia) region. It is smaller there. It harassed the life out of me, however I always thought about it. When I was a child whenever my father left his bagpipe somewhere I grabbed it. I tried to play like him... but ...he didn’t allow me! He didn’t allow me this because he knew from his father and he in turn from his father that each bagpipe is made for a certain person only. Each one is obliged to keep his own bagpipe. My father has leaned other things as well from his forefathers: songs, horos(dances). He had learned some special kababagpipe melodies- ours, belonging to our family. I was taught them by him, too. When I grew up I also added to them some made up by me.
However, after all my father made a bagpipe for me – a small one, in order to get started.
Later my father went to war. Other things he took or didn't take, I don't remember, but the bagpipe was with him.
I am the same. Wherever I go, I always take the bagpipe with me. One day my mother while putting it in the bagpipe bag, accidentally broke the reed. I thought with my childish mind that she had made it deliberately. Back at home I sprawled on the yard and started crying. “I'm not gonna go anywhere until you fix my bagpipe”. My mother was in quandary, but she knew me very well and she got it repaired the same day. So...Just hearing some melody, and I was very receptive, I used to play it all day until I got it right. It kept on gnawing me and I had no peace. I listened to a lot of master players, I learned a lot by them, but if you don't have the desire over here, in the ear and the heart, it will never amount to anything.
I keep an eye on my brother's grandson. He's gonna be a great musician. He is like a fire. This year he was accepted in our musical school, here in Shiroka luka. He amazed the jury at the exam. When I show him something he looks only at my hands. Through the eyes and the ears all of it goes into his hands. This is a talent. I have taught a lot of boys. All kind of boys- ours, Swedes, Greeks, Germans. One boy came even from America. And one other American, ye, I thaught him.
Now I am pleased that there is a school for everybody and for everything, including for bagpipers- here in our village! It is necessary for the young people to learn. I learned everything by hearing and I played. However when I went in the Rhodope ensemble I learned also solfeggio. There I played a lot of years. There we were together with Boyka Prisadova. Together with her we won the first place at the Rojen folklore festival and in addition I as a bagpiper took another first prize. I remember it as somebody said , while I was going up to the stage, “If bay Dimitar is gonna play now, there is no sense at all that anybody else play.” I felt so flattered... I started playing.The honery diploma is over there.
And one other prize I have... One fellow villager came once and said “Bay Dimitre, you know, when I was in Berlin, I went in the restaurant “Sofia” and I saw there... your picture, that big...”This I consider again a honery diploma, although I've not seen it myself. People know and respect me. After all as much I play for me, that much I play for them as well.
I know a lot of songs and horos but I prefer the melancholy ones. The ones that fill your heart with tender sorrow when you play them...
Bay Dimitar started a flowing and resonant melody and in the bagpipe tingled piercing sounds,
hollow wails, tender half-tones and vigorous pitches.
“Oh, I left the playing, but the bagpipe-No! It stays here and when sorrow strikes me I take it. It is like me- already old. The reeds are made 1937. I've played with them for the last 49 year.” Actually this is the “knack”- not just to make a bagpipe, but to make it so that it outlives you. Do you know how a good bagpipe is made? For the drone, the reeds and the chanter you need dog-tree, especially a thick one with big core. You should saw it in quarters, because otherwise it's gonna crack, and then I leave it to get dried. When you drill the channels...This is the most difficult part, because the openings should be adjusted to each other. I grease the chanter and the drone with olive -oil so that the wood can “drink” well enough of it. Then it gets a good sound and long life... And the reeds should be identical to each other. Otherwise one will “shriek” more then the other.
The bag also require efforts. A fresh goat pelt when left in brine becomes good, white. Don't laugh, each kind of work requires desire . Once I decorated the chanter of one bagpipe with black and white bones- just so... solely for beauty's sake. I have made and other more difficult bagpipes. It was tree bagpipes with double chanters. They all were taken in different museums. I was asked to send one of them in Sofia. This kind of bagpipe is difficult to make: in one chanter two channels with two millimeters distance between each other. If you turn the drill even slightly away, you have to start again from scratch. It was a tough job, but I succeed...One bagpipe, two voices.
This is it, this kind of job, it drags your soul out, but at the same time it gives you another, better one. My father told me that once when I was a child, I was sick and I cried. I was a child after all. But how to calm me down? My father started playing the bagpipe. I stopped crying. If my father stopped, I started again. He played until dawn. Who knows maybe this chase the illness away. The bagpipe is not only a leather bag and four wooden sticks attached to it. It is the soul. This sweet and tender thing that I have inside of me.
newspaper “Otechestven front” 19 September 1986, 12486
translated from Bulgarian: Kostadin Gerdzhikov