333 bagpipes concert enters the Guinness Book of Records

Photo: BGNES

The music of the Rhodope Mountain flies in space, features on the soundtracks of Hollywood movies and has now entered the Guinness Book of Records as Bulgaria has set a world record in bagpipe performance. The event took place on May 16 in Sofia where 333 bagpipe players wearing the same folk costumes played a folk suite with amazing skills. On June 19 arrived the official confirmation that this performance of the pipers has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records. Thus the Bulgarian bagpipers broke the previous record set by 240 Scottish bagpipes.

© Photo: BGNES

The musicians played for 9 minutes and 13 seconds, performing fragments of 8 Rhodope songs that made the nearly 4,000 spectators in the National Palace of Culture rise to their feet. The youngest bagpiper was 7 years old, a first- grade student who started to play this difficult instrument in the kindergarten. The oldest Rhodopean who participated in the Guinness record was aged 80. There were also 10 young girls among the Rhodope bagpipe players.

The Bulgarian Kaba Gaida bagpipe is a symbol of the Rhodopes and is found only in these places. From ancient times until today it sounds at working bees, fairs, weddings, christenings and its powerful sound is thrilling and heart-rending to every Bulgarian. Unlike the Scottish bagpipe and the Bulgarian jura bagpipe, which sound at a higher pitch, the kaba gaida bagpipe has a lower pitch. This is the tenth Bulgarian record listed in the Guinness Book. But it is perhaps the most attractive - 333 bagpipes playing in unison! What does this mean for Bulgaria?

"This is yet another reason to be proud of being Bulgarian - commented for Radio Bulgaria Sana Alsbey from the Art of Living Foundation, organizer of the event. “The fact that we were able to enter the Guinness Book of Records is a global recognition for our country. We really have a lot to show the world - our music and our traditions are just as valuable as those of any other greater nation."

What was the feeling, the emotion triggered by the powerful sound of hundreds of pipes in the Great Hall of the NPC?

"The feeling was great, especially when the curtain began to lift”, main piper Kostadin Ilchev described the euphoria in an interview for Radio Bulgaria. “After the audience saw the 333 bagpipers on the stage, they rose to their feet. The applause was so strong that at one point I could not hear the sound of the bagpipes. People said that they have never seen or heard such a miracle in their life."

Why did the organizers choose the Bulgarian kaba bagpipe in particular?
"The choice was not easy”, Sana Alsbey admits. “Kaba bagpipes have a unique sound that takes you deep into the mountains and the people who attended this concert felt this feeling live – it was like an adrenaline injection. Bagpipes show the deep spirituality of every Bulgarian. "

Dozens of ethnographers have tried to understand and describe the mystique of the Rhodope sound. Much has been written about the history and origin of the bagpipes. 

"The kaba bagpipe is as old as the world, no one knows who crafted it, but it first appeared here in the Rhodopes”, says proudly Kostadin Ilchev, leader of The 101 Bagpipes Orchestra". Because of its lower pitch, it is easier to sing to its accompaniment. There is no better instrument for song accompaniment”.

How do you achieve unison among 333 bagpipers who come from various villages in the mountains? Even though the songs are popular, these are people of different age who studied in different schools and lived according to different local customs. "The unison? It is a matter of feeling!”, bagpipe player Kostadin Ilchev puts it briefly. The bagpipers rehearsed separately, each using a CD to sound like one, the organizers explain.

"The secret of unison comes from the pipers themselves - they are outstanding professionals”, Sana Alsbey says. “All participants have a degree in music. And the bagpipe is not at all an easy instrument to play. Each of them practiced the suite on his or her own. Unfortunately, the 333 bagpipers rehearsed together only on the day of the event. And despite that, they achieved amazing unison." 

English: Rossitsa Petcova

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