Bladder bagpipes (pig’s bladder, elder wood, thread)

Bladder bagpipes (pig’s bladder, elder wood, thread)
Bladder bagpipes, Pontevedra (España). Lydia Zarceño. 'Copyleft' Luis Á. Payno y Lydia Zarceño

Bladder bagpipes (pig’s bladder, elder wood, thread)

A dried pig’s bladder serves as the air container for this traditional wind instrument. Both the mouthpiece for blowing, which we call the “blower”, and the sound pipe are made from pieces of elder branch, which have been hollowed out and cleaned. Another two pieces of elder wood, shorter and thicker, are tied to the ends of the bladder and serve as bases for inserting the pipes once the edges are reduced. The thread is wound around the join several times to make sure the air can’t escape.

The “blower” has a small valve at the end which goes into the bladder. It consists of a small piece of flexible skin which partially closes the hole where the air comes in, in such a way that the air can come in but can’t get out as the pressure closes the hole. The sound pipe has a simple reed and several finger holes for notes.

Pigs’ bladders are obtained as waste from their slaughter and used to be given to children to blow up and play with. Once full of air, they were tied to a stick and left to dry for several days. Once dried, they are rubbed with oil or grease to make them flexible.

In areas where the “fol” bagpipes are used (Galicia, Asturias, Zamora) it seems that this kind of instrument was given to children to initiate them in music, firstly as a game, although many great popular musicians started this way.

Similar instruments are typical in art from the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. 

Sound of bladder bagpipes: click on black triangle