Marc's history of playing and pipemaking
The place where I live is very near the Belgium border and so I visited, with great regularity, folkconcerts in Belgium where folk music is much more alive then in The Netherlands. This is also where I first got in contact with traditional irish music. In 1975 I went to a concert of the, then totally unknown here, group Planxty en saw and heard an irish piper (a very young Liam O'Flynn) demonstrate his abilities on this enchanting instrument.
I was hooked on the uilleann pipes straight away and HAD to play the pipes no matter what. Then came the quest for a set of pipes..., which wasn't quite that simple. There was no internet and information from Ireland about pipemakers was scarse to say the least. You had to find out everything by yourself. On one of my many trips to Ireland I ordered a practise set in a musicshop in Wexford which was sent to me a year later.
This was the first incentive to start reedmaking as the reed that was suplied with the pipes was totally unusable. With the help of a local basoon player, and reed maker, I got into the art of reedmaking. The reedmaking guide by David Haggerty was also in my possesion at the time and helped a lot. Unfortunately my practise set was not of such quality it was playable. Not giving up that easily I then , by recommendation of a flutemaker, ordered a set in England. This was a copy of a Taylor set with no less then four regulators. With this instrument I also had a lot of problems and it was virtually unplayable.
It appeared that there were more people infected with the same (pipes) virus as I was in The Netherlands because at some time i received an invitation from the "Dutch Uilleann Pipers Association" NVUP (which was sort of non existant in those days) for the first Dutch Tionól which was in 1984. The association still exists and is, despite some meager years, more flourishing then ever. The first guest of that Tionól was Eugene Lambe who examined my set of pipes and advised me to get an other instrument after all because no good would ever come from my Taylor copy.
My original trade is tuning/repairing piano's and at that time my brother and I had a company doing this with our own workshop. In my spare time I started making my first set, purely as a hobby and to get a good set for a reasonable price. (this aim I am still trying to maintain to this day) My technical education proved to be of great value when building a set of pipes. I was able to make a lot of my own tools for pipemaking and a wood lathe was already present in the workshop. What then started as a hobby grew out to be a full time job.
Bodhran maker/player Brendan White, a good friend of mine, convinced me to present my work to a broader audience and in doing so we managed to liven up the odd folkfestival. The demand for uilleann pipes was greater than expected and I now started making them full time. After all.., it's much easier to carry a set of pipes than a piano.
I have never done an aprenticeship with a pipemaker simply because there was no way, but by keeping ones eyes and ears peeled one can come a long way it seems. Because I was , certainly in the beginning, very involved with the Dutch Association I managed to get a lot of plans for making pipes. Also, the measuring of good sets of pipes has proven invaluable for me though I really think one should be inventive and open minded to new technologies and developments. A lot of bore measures I use are based on an instrument made by Leo Rowsome but my instruments have a lot of stuff in them that are thought of by myself. I try to build my sets as authentic as possible though I am not afraid to use "new" techniques if it results in a set of pipes that handles better than with another option.
To make the bags I still use prime quality leather, to me still the best material as it works as a moistureregulator and therefor better for the reeds. What makes the job interesting is the fact that you need to work with a lot of different materials and so you need to know a lot about those as well. Choosing the right materials is a job in itself.
For example.., the chanters, drones and regulators are all made of ebony (mpingo tree, Dalbergia melanoxylon ) which, for me, is an obvious choice but it seems personal taste has a lot to do with it as well. In any case there are no consessions to be made on the materials I use as I think that only the best is good enough to become a set of pipes.
I have recently started to form a band again as I obviously not only build pipes.., I play them as well, that's why this whole thing started remember? The previous band I played in fell apart and though I quite enjoy playing solo it is also very nice to play with others.
A couple of years ago I discovered the internet and some friends put me on it as they said it was good for business and people could find me more easilly. This has been such a succes that I now have my very own website. The site of the Dutch Uilleann Pipers Association was the first site I was on with pictures and all. So I am now filling my days with all the new technologies and the old art of pipemaking, and I am quite happy.=)
Marc van Daal