Saturday, May 28

The oldest bagpipe in the world has been playing since the end of the Middle Ages in Galicia

The idea of ​​dating old bagpipes by measuring the wear caused by the fingers on the wood occurred to Pablo Carpintero when he was looking at two instruments that the same craftsman, Manuel Villanueva, had made more than a century ago. One had been used, and a lot, by his own creator, who was a professional bagpiper. The other one had fewer transfer days and it was noticeable that the material around the holes in the pointer better kept its original shape. Carpintero, who has a doctorate in Sciences from the University of Santiago de Compostela, then began working on a mathematical model to link wear and years of use. Carbon 14 tests confirmed his predictions. With this system, the age of the oldest bagpipe in the world known to date has been determined, the one that belonged to the musician Xan de Campañó: its wood was cut about 600 years ago and it continues to play today.

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Carpintero, who is also a musician, played several pieces with this instrument a few days ago in the place where it all began: the Museum of Pontevedra, where those bagpipes by Manuel Villanueva are kept that made him think about the wear caused by friction on any object. Playing a bagpipe of such antiquity in the act, in which he was accompanied by the music Rosa Sánchez, meant for the researcher a “simple reinforcement” of the idea of ​​”belonging to a lineage”, as he believes happens with “any other musician traditional” that has acquired knowledge transmitted from generation to generation.

To make the model, Carpintero explains in a conversation with that he analyzed the different variables for years: the type of wood, the pressure of the fingers, the repertoire that is played. He needed to find a way to confirm that the results were accurate. He then spoke with Iván Area, professor at the Department of Applied Mathematics II at the University of Vigo and he suggested that he present his conclusions as a doctoral thesis. This work is being developed under the direction of the Area itself and the professor of the Department of History, Art and Xeography Susana Reboreda. To confirm how the model worked, they tested Carbon 14 on several of the pointers to which he assigned greater seniority and verified that the calculations were correct.

In the case of the bagpipe of Xan Tilve (1872-1950), known as the gaiteiro de Campañó –a parish in Pontevedra–, the model calculated that it had been in continuous use for 500 years, in which it was passed from musician to musician. Carbon 14 concluded that the wood with which the pointer It is around 600 years old. Carpintero thus verified what he already suspected, that many of the bagpipes from the Pontevedra area and the coast of Portugal, from Lisbon to the north, are from several centuries ago.

He specifies that in the Pontevedra area almost half of the bagpipes he studied are over 300 years old. In Portugal the rate is around 25%, he indicates. Towards the north of Galicia and in Asturias, however, no instruments from so long ago have appeared. “It is no coincidence that we did not find them. We work with very large samples”, he argues and explains that this is due, in his opinion, to the fact that the instrument spread to those areas around the 18th century or even later. The reason, he says, is not known. And this is one of the fields of study that are opened with the results of his research.

The researcher explains that, in the West, the ancient instruments that are preserved stopped being used a long time ago. The oldest are Irish harps from shortly after the pointer of Campaño. He considers that what is “surprising” in the cases he has studied is that the instruments were still in use. That, he adds, says “a very important thing”, which is that “the music of the people has not changed in more than 500 years”. “They sound exactly the same. Some of us suspected this, but we had no proof. Now it can be said: from the end of the Middle Ages until now the musical system of the bagpipes did not change. Not one iota,” he states.

Half a kilometer of sandpaper

Pablo Carpintero has spent nearly three decades searching for ancient bagpipes in the northwest of the peninsula and managed to document 380. He has been working on the research to develop his mathematical model for six years and has analyzed 144 pointers. Carbon 14 testing was done on a portion of them. In the case of an instrument that belonged to José María García, known as the bagpiper from Mogor (Marín), the model estimated 300 years of use and radiocarbon dating established that it is between 240 and 310 years old. Another of the analyzed pieces, by Manuel Villanueva, is about 200 years old. The researcher indicates that there is a bagpipe that is preserved in the Ethnology Museum of Lisbon that could be prior to that of Campañó. The model calculates that it has more than 500 years of use, but it has not been possible to date the wood with carbon 14.

The system he developed, he says, “is not complex.” He relied on abrading down pieces of wood with sandpaper and seeing the progress. The pointer it is cylindrical, so the wear is not linear: as you go deeper into it, the surface of the wood with which your fingers make contact is greater. With the data from the tests on wood of different types, the model was adjusted. The task was laborious and in it he used almost half a kilometer of sandpaper. Taking the measurements was not a challenge. He did it, he says, with a “normal and current” caliber. “It is surprising how with such a usual tool you can get to know a minimum age for a bagpipe”, he points out.