In the run-up to the 23rd International Bagpipe Festival in Strakonice, a special bagpipe exhibition has opened up to the public. Seventy of these instruments from all parts of the world will be on view until the end of August.
Hidden in the region of South Bohemia lies the municipality of Strakonice. Sporting a medieval castle and church, it may at first come across as a typical small Czech town, yet it is in fact, the heart of bagpipe culture in the Czech Republic.
One of the festival organisers, Irena Novotná, says it is a tradition that goes back deep into local history.
"Strakonice, the town of Strakonice, we call 'Dudákov' [Czech for Bagpipes]. It means that bagpipes are in our name. We have many singers and bagpipers here. We have a statue on our square, we have a beer called the 'Strakonický Dudák' [Strakonice Bagpiper]. Our legendary bagpiper, Švanda dudák, had a play written about him by Josef Kajetán Tyl [Czech National Revival dramatist].“
The region shows off its bagpiping prowess in a bi-annual festival, that has been going strong for over 50 years.
One of the visitors is Dutch musician and passionate bagpipe collector, Jeroen de Groot, who first came to Strakonice thirty years ago.
"I read a German bagpipe magazine and they had a list of images of strange bagpipes. They were all from Strakonice. So i had to go there. When I was there, I met Josef Režný, the most important bagpiper of the last decades, so my interest was naturally growing. Režný then invited me and my band to play at the festival. From that moment on we always play at the festival.“
Aware of de Groot’s collection and his fondness for Strakonice, Novotná asked him if the organisers could exhibit his bagpipes ahead of the upcoming festival. He agreed and the castle now sports a major collection.
"In our exhibition we can see bagpipes from different parts of europe, as well as from Asia. For example from Georgia, Iran or Azerbaijan.“
The four day festival will start on the 23. of August and De Groot’s bagpipes are on show until the end of August.
De Groot, who kicked off the exhibition with a special performance, has a message for any prospective visitors.
"Go there and ask questions! There are instruments there, but also a very good computer program through which you can listen to bagpipes. It is nice to see them, but more important to listen and ask me about their stories. It‘s the culture of the people that is most important.“