1st Bergamo On Pipes international Bagpipe Festival, Bergamo, Italy
On Friday 17th September 11 pipers and 8 drummers departed for Bergamo, Milan from Prestwick Airport to participate in the first ‘Bergamo On Pipes’ international bagpipe festival. Our participation was organised by Maurizio Maffioletti of the Bèrghem Baghèt Band of Palazzago, who play a typical Italian Bergamasco bagpipe.
Friday 17th September
We departed from Edinburgh Academy mid-afternoon and arrived at Prestwick in plenty of time to check in and have a couple of pints before boarding. Joining us at Prestwick for this trip was Kirsten Donaldson from the Keltika Highland Dance team. Our flight left on time and we arrived at Bergamo Milan airport to be met by a small army of event officials and volunteers. After our introductions we were taken by coach to the town of Martinengo just south of Bergamo where we would be staying.
Our accommodation was at the Monastery of Our Crowned Lady, founded in 1475 and located on the outskirts of the town. Arriving at about 10:00pm we quietly tiptoed through the Gothic cloisters and corridors to our well appointed rooms before heading back to the coach.
Our hosts had arranged supper for us at the local hall of the Gruppo Alpini in Martinengo. Travel weary, we were a quiet bunch as we took our seats but after an excellent typical three-course feast accompanied by some fine local wine, we were all in fine fettle! The pipes were fired up and our hosts given a quick lesson in dancing before we raced our way through several group dances. Before we knew it, it was gone 1:00am and time to go to bed. Well for some of us anyway! The majority of the band stayed up well into the wee small hours chatting away and sipping various tipples in a civilised fashion back at the Monastery.
Saturday 18th September
After a quick breakfast at 8:30am we were taken on a walking tour of Martinengo’s historic town centre. The old town dates back to the Roman period but the majority of the historical buildings are Medieval. Surrounded by a small moat, the town features a castle, watch tower, two significant churches and some unique arcades built in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Our guides explained the historical relevance of these places as they took us round but our preamble was cut short by torrential rain. Seeking shelter in a café bar we were joined by some of the organisers of our stay in Martinengo and were soon sipping rosé cocktails and champagne – and all before 11 o’clock!
As the torrential rain continued throughout the day it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be performing outdoors in the main Piazza as planned. Alternative arrangements were made and a stage set up under the main arcade along the principle street through the town. We spent the afternoon rehearsing in a local gymnasium with our dancer Kirsten before enjoying a fine supper back at the Monastery. After a quick siesta, and with our kit and capes on donned, we headed back into the old town. Despite the still torrential rain a sizable crowd made up of dignitaries, band members from other musical groups, and locals had gathered in the arcades to watch – the town Mayor gave a welcoming speech before handing over to ourselves. We’d been asked to split our concert into two half-hour sections with a break for refreshments in the middle and the first half, a combination of street tunes, competition sets and highland dances, flew by. We retired to our local Bar for more cocktails and drinks with the event organisers before resuming the second half. This featured our drum fanfare, some more up-tempo sets and a wee tag-team solo with four of our pipers.
The rain ceased just as we finished so everyone moved into the Piazza Maggiore where the Mayor and representatives from a couple of the local bands made speeches and presented us with gifts. We’re brought reciprocal gifts in return and after all the photos had been taken we formed up and led by the Major, played our way down the main street and back into the Bar followed by the crowd. Drinking ensued, a few interviews were conducted for local reporters and we also met some pipers from the Bazzano Castle pipe band, one of the Italian ‘Scottish’ pipe band appearing with us tomorrow. Their pipe major, Roberto Arrabito, had brought along a set of pipes made by an Italian maker, and proceeded to give us a tune. The pipes were well made and sweet sounding and after Roberto’s lead, several solo turns ensued. And to round the evening off a short presentation was made to our departing G4 Pipe Major Blair Milne to mark his time with the band, before everyone meandered back to the Monastery for a few nightcaps.
Sunday 19th September
Bright and exceedingly early on Sunday morning, we left by coach for Bergamo and we were deposited along with all the other pipe bands at the Piazza Pontida near the city centre.
After quickly tuning up, all the ‘Scottish’ pipe bands were grouped together into a massed band. This included the Arklow and Black Raven pipe bands from Ireland, Colchester and District from England, the City of Rome, Orobian and Bazzano Castle pipe bands from Italy and Alloa Bowmore and ourselves from Scotland. Ahead of us Bagad Keriz from Brittany, a group of traditional pipers from Bulgaria called Lyuben Karavelov, and three Italian groups of Medieval/Traditional pipes and drums – Le Baghe della Zasagna, I Pedra and our hosts, Berghem Baghet – led the parade as individual bands.
It was a beautiful sunny day and as the massed parade wound its way through the streets of Bergamo crowds of Sunday shoppers soon gathered to watch the spectacle. We finished up in the heart of the city before being whisked away by bus to the Lazzaretto – this is the premier location for concerts, expositions and events in Bergamo and we were no strangers to this unique venue having performed there in 2007 at the 7th Lo Spirito del Pianeta festival.
After a well-needed lunch and some apparently compulsory shots of Grappa, we assembled outside the Lazzaretto and paraded in through the main gate in a pre-determined order before performing a short set to the assembled public and dignitaries. With 13 bands in total this process took almost two hours – sensibly the organisers had set up a bar and with pint in hand we were able to enjoy the event under clear blue skies and glorious sunshine. And this also gave us a chance to meet some of the other pipers and drummers from the Italian and Irish bands.
Once the last band had entered the Lazzaretto each band then formed up and marched back into the arena to for a kind of massed band event to close the spectacle. Amazing Grace, accompanied by a Soprano, Highland Cathedral and Scotland the Brave brought the pipe band element of the event to a close. Sometime round about 8pm we were whisked back to Martinengo and after quickly getting out of band gear, we found ourselves being treated to a final dinner at a local Pizzeria in the company of the Major and the event organisers. Despite it being a Sunday and most bars being closed the party continued into the night for once final time.
As this was the first ever Bergamo on Pipes festival there were a lot of individuals who we came onto contact with and who helped look after us at various points over the weekend.
First, thank you to Maurizio Maffioletti of the Bèrghem Baghèt for inviting us to attend and for organising such a diverse and varied event which involved so many different aspects of piping, pipe bands and music.
Next, thanks to Luca, our main contact and organiser in Martinengo who, along with both the Major and the Deputy Major and a huge reception of followers, made our stay in Martinengo a hugely enjoyable experience.
And a big “Cheers” to Alessandro Colombani, our young guide and lad about town who kept us entertained throughout our stay.
And finally a huge thank you to Pamela Latter – the unofficial translator, correspondent and principle English speaking contact. Without her patience and perseverance I doubt things would have worked out as well as they did!