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Dick Hensold brings his bagpiping skills to Empty Sea Studios on Saturday

By Chris Foster, UW News Lab

Empty Sea Studios has made a name for giving interesting and unique musicians a place to showcase their talents. On Saturday, Feb. 4, renowned bagpiper Dick Hensold will take the stage.

Hensold acknowledges with humor that bagpipes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

“It really is better to play an instrument some people hate than one nobody really cares about,” he said.

A graduate of Oberlin, Hensold has an impressively diverse background in music. He has performed and taught the Northumbrian smallpipes across the U.S. and overseas, playing traditional Scottish music. He also performs Cambodian traditional music and Nordic folk music.

Along with the Northumbrian smallpipes, Hensold will be playing the Scottish Reel pipes and the Swedish Säckpipa at Empty Sea. The Northumbrian pipes are a quieter bagpipe with a large musical range, while the Scottish Reel pipes are like an indoor version of the Great Highland pipes. The Swedish Säckpipa is a primitive bagpipe used for traditional Swedish tunes.

Hensold also will be playing the Welsh Pibgorn, an ancient reed instrument, and the Norwegian Seljefløyte, which is also called a harmonic flute.

Hensold became interested in the bagpipes during his time at Oberlin, where he studied 16th and 18th-century counterpoint—a musical theory that involves two different, independent sounds that harmonize when played together. After searching for a bagpipe that could combine counterpoint with melody and drones, he found the Northumbrian smallpipes.

Hensold joked that his interest in unique and rare instruments is due to a condition he calls instrument acquisition disorder.

“I think I have it under control now,” he said.

The unique instruments Hensold plays fit in perfectly at Empty Sea, which has hosted all kinds of music, including Indian classical and traditional African. Owner Michael Connolly described Empty Sea’s shows as music you wouldn’t hear in a bar.

“It’s music that’s supposed to be listened to,” Connolly said.

Connolly said that Empty Sea’s setup is designed to provide the ultimate listening experience. The audience is no further than 20 feet away from the performer, providing an intimate atmosphere.

“You feel like the musician is an actual person you’re having an actual interaction with,” Connolly said. “The room kind of melts away.”

Hensold said there is a big theatrical composition to the show he’ll be performing, even though it is a one-man act.

“I put a lot of thought into how I put my show together,” Hensold said. “I want contrast, I want variety, but I want there to be a real point to the whole thing; a real sense of place and narrative, and taking people places.”

Hensold has experience in composing for theater. He recently worked as the composer and music director on the outdoor walking-play “Nature,” which tells the story of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau’s love of the natural world.

Audience members will be in for quite an experience at Hensold’s show. He’ll be playing more than seven different instruments throughout the night. To hear what some of the more unique instruments sound like, check out Hensold’s website. Hensold plays at Empty Sea Studios at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door. For more information, or to buy tickets online, check out Empty Sea’s website.

(Chris Foster is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)

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