Xosé Manuel Seivane Rivas (Fonmiñá, A Pastoriza, Lugo, 1921 – Cambre, A Coruña, 2012) made his first gaita in 1939 in a small workshop, which was based in this small area in the region of Terra Chá, thus creating the first ‘Seivane’ seal. Despite the fact that he was already a bagpiper and clarinettist, he fulfilled a childhood dream of making his very own instrument.
His father Francisco, a great carpenter and his mother Estrella, blessed with a marvellous musical ear, gave him some very solid foundations in order to develop his craftsmanship skills. He inherited the techniques, tools and wood from his father and the musical sensitivity, especially in relation to tuning and pitch, from his mother. She also gave him the melodies of bagpipers who had already disappeared, such as Curuxeiras, who was born in A Pastoriza, López from Baltar, or Francisco do Crego from Sinde.
Whilst serving his period of military service in Pontevedra, he meets another craftsman, Antón Represas, who was known as ‘O Marreco’, with whom he shares stories and knowledge, helping him to make several gaitas for the army.
It was the beginning of a difficult journey, as being in the post-war, the needs during that period did not include purchasing something that was solely for enjoyment. At that time, gaitas were made by carpenters/lathe operators and bagpipers tuned and made their own chanter reeds. There were very few people who were both gaita maker and player; one of the few was, without doubt, Xosé Manuel.
With limited resources but bestowed with great talent and ingenuity, as a skilled person that he was, managed to meet the necessary requirements for the development of manufacturing techniques, from a deeply immersed musical perspective. His hopes were fulfilled and, a year later, he married and established himself in Ribeira de Piquín (Lugo). At first, he supplied only local bagpipers but gradually widened his field of work until he had gone beyond country borders and converted the Obradoiro into a place of pilgrimage for bagpipers and the lovers of traditional music from Galicia.
His sons Álvaro (born in Ribeira de Piquín, Lugo 1952) and Xosé Manuel (born in Ribeira de Piquín, Lugo 1964), follow their father’s footsteps from a young age in the same way as he had done with his own father. By his side, they begin learning the obscure trade secrets which come from their daily involvement with wood and being able to memorise its sound when they hear it, thus embedding forever the colour of the Seivane sound.
In 1972, Álvaro moves to Barcelona, studies Industrial Master and begins work as an engineer. He establishes himself there over fourteen years and works in the industrial sector (designing and building tools and prototypes), where he gains the invaluable experience which he would later apply to craftsmanship and combines his work with the construction of gaitas in his workshop, created as the spitting image of his father’s. From there, he supplies Galician Centres in Catalonia and even across Europe.
In 1986, Álvaro decides to return to Galicia, with the aim of creating the Obradoiro de Gaitas Seivane alongside his father and brother, bringing them all together once more. Meanwhile he settles in Cambre, A Coruña, and prepares the infrastructure of the current workshop, by exchanging jobs and ways of seeing with the Ribeira de Piquín atelier. It is a very exciting stage because he is fully dedicated to the gaita and very fruitful in research, with the discovery of the breathable fiber bag (Goretex) or the study of ergonomic patterns and lines until reaching the current bags that have been standardized by the majority of artisans.
En 1994, going against the proverbial Galician fragmentation ("minifundismo"), all their individual experience is brought together in order to form, in Cambre (A Coruña), the current Obradoiro de Gaitas Seivane.
By starting a trade which was essentially individual and with extended delivery times, a pioneering firm is created in Galicia, with greater manufacturing capabilities and with the intention of modernising the traditional techniques for crafting and above all else, to investigate and delve into all the aspects related to the gaita, to offer the very highest quality in their products.
The New Generation
Álvaro and Xosé, now directly responsible for the workshop, begin to work on new ways of understanding the manufacturing process, making use of the latest technological advances and precision machinery to apply them to the craftsmanship skills.
This combination of a traditional craftsmanship spirit and technology, the taste for things well done, congenital creativity and sonority intuition are the pillars of the Seivane brand, distinguished by the strong individual identity of their products and their excellent quality. As pioneers in the evolution of the instrument, they would be marking a before and after in the construction of gaitas and would become the blueprint for everybody to follow.
Susana carries the Seivane name around the world, its instruments and the best of the traditional repertoire of Galicia.
The Seivane philosophy
From the beginning, the Obradoiro de Gaitas Seivane, through their various activities, manufacturing, presentation, divulgence, commercialisation, study and investigation, always had a desire to dignify the gaita, the symbolic instrument of Galicia and elevate it to the highest levels of music and recognition, something which is now acknowledged internationally.
As many other people and groups did, sometimes against the tide and without the necessary means, the Obradoiro worked to conserve and enhance traditional Galician music as an intangible asset and add this inherited cultural treasure to the heritage, which has to be looked after, loved and passed on. Proud of its culture and with the aim of exalting the gaita and giving it value, forming a national identity and growing culture.
In the last 50 years, the gaita has been enhanced enormously and the obradoiro, open to communicate and receive all new discoveries, takes part in many of the diverse studies, which are undertaken in order to agree criteria and to modernise the instrument.
Examples of these are the establishment of common chanter reeds in order to craftsmen succeed in producing more standardised reeds and of indisputable quality, which produce a purer sound in the gaita chanters. The restoration of the innate goatskin gaita bag and banishing other gaita bags made from materials such as rubber, that are damaging to chanter reeds, tempering and the gaita in general, as well as launching the current gaita bag made with breathable fibres.
Acoustic and musical improvements
Relative improvements have been achieved in recent years, in the acoustic and musical realm, and the Obradoiro de Gaitas Seivane is an unmistakable point of reference in the investigation and development of the instrument. Their current gaitas offer a register of an octave and a half and, using special techniques, it is almost possible to register two full octaves. At the same time, they offer a chromatic quality that is not to be underestimated, which in the last few decades has opened up new musical possibilities.
With the refinement in tuning and by bringing the natural gaita scale closer to the tempered scale, a relationship of compromise is established between the two scales and through the work on harmonics, it is possible to adapt this to other classic or modern instruments, without losing the natural characteristics of the gaita.
In terms of the keys, as well as improving the traditional keys like B (known an ‘Tumbal’), C (known as ‘Redonda’) or D (known as ‘Grileira’), an extensive chromatic range was developed between C4 and G5, making new harmonies with different tonal combinations possible.
In the same way, Seivane contributed a characteristic harmonious quality, which became standard, both in terms of the chanters and also the general binding of the drones. The ‘pechado’ (closed) fingering style was recovered, defined and unified, which contributed, without doubt, to its extraordinary current popularity. The use of crossed fingerings, known as ‘tranquillas’ for playing in the minor tone was enhanced because it brings about a considerable level of perfection, compared to the previous and imprecise practise of only partly covering the holes.
Advances and innovation
Without losing sight of its origin and authenticity, many technical advances were achieved, resulting in innovative products, some of which have been patented by the obradoiro, such as the effective Seipal synthetic drone reed, incorporating a stop valve, or the new Seipón blowpipe valve system, the detachable blowpipe mouthpiece, the Seitor chanter with adjustable tuning or the new Seinox material with stainless properties for the metallic rings.
The Seivane reference
The careful finishing typical of classic instruments, or the aesthetic and ergonomic design of the instruments, the distinctive style of their products, customisation, the extensive variety of gaitas and accessories for the transportation, protection and maintenance of the instrument, made the Obradoiro de Gaitas Seivane a point of reference in the manufacture of gaitas.
It is estimated that between 85-90% of all new Galician gaitas that travel and sound around the world, are a direct or indirect product of the ‘Seivane school’, in that they were made taking into account the empirical studies carried out by the obradoiro throughout its history.