By Finlay MacDonald
Postgraduate study is a great option for those already at a high, professional standard, looking to further their own musical and creative voice within the world of piping and the wider traditional music scene. This course of study is very much centred on the individual, encouraging artistic and creative freedom, exploration and experimentation. With guidance from world leading instructors both at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and The National Piping Centre, this truly is a unique opportunity to spend time refining and developing any and all styles of piping.
The MA (one calendar year) and MMus (two academic years) curriculum is very flexible and allows for an appropriately high level of autonomy and independence of study.
At the heart of the MA/MMus curriculum is the weekly 90-minute, one-to-one Principal Study lesson that takes place at The National Piping Centre with core staff such as Willie McCallum, Ross Ainslie and myself. This activity, and the regular learning, practice and project work that attends it, makes up the majority of academic credit earned in the programme and culminates in a public recital. The specific tutor can be negotiated or the lessons can be split into two 45-minute lessons per week with different tutors, and can cover Highland and bellows-blown piping as per the student’s own artistic aspirations.
Further credit is earned through a module called Approaches to Critical Artistry, which comprises an intensive couple of days at the start of the year followed by independent project work thereafter.
Finally, remaining credit is earned through a range of elective modules as well as departmental activities that comprise the student’s Performance Studies profile. Performance Studies for pipers consist of weekly classes in Technique & Healthy Practice; Piping History and Repertoire; Maintenance & Sound Production; Performance Classes, which include rehearsals for The National Piping Centre’s annual Spring Concert; and optional seminars in Canntaireachd and Piping for Dancing. There would also be access to a Folk Ensemble class specific to Masters Students across a range of instruments.
For pipers (highland or bellows) who have a degree in any subject or significant professional experience, the Masters programme allows the time and dedicated support to fully immerse in individual performance practice. The programme is tailored to allow each student to develop their own goals and aspirations: for example, the student is encouraged to curate a performance-based research project with guidance and support from staff. This is usually linked very closely to the work being carried out in Principal Study lessons and other supporting classes/tutorials. As with any Royal Conservatoire of Scotland or National Piping Centre experience, this is a very hands-on course with lots of playing and a focus on developing breadth and depth within each musician’s repertoire.
Enora Morice, a piper, fiddler and singer from Brittany is just finishing the Masters programme. She says: “Before coming to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland I completed a Bachelor degree of Music in Rennes, France. This was in traditional music. I’ve decided to continue my studies to learn more about the music of the highland bagpipe and to learn more about Scotland’s culture.
“I’m almost at the end of my Master of Music. I’m learning every day about my instrument – music, style, sound, technique, maintenance, etc. – but also about stage performing. Glasgow is a really good place to meet people from all over the world as well. It gives me the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and to learn about different kinds of music.
“Over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to play at different music festivals thanks to my studies. The festivals include Celtic Connections, Celtic Colours in Canada and Piping Live!). I have made a link between my studies and future professional life.”
John Mulhearn, the renowned piper/producer/teacher, is embarking on the MMus this year. He told me: “I have personal and professional reasons to undertake a Masters and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive. My career as a musician has, to date, been quite varied, having had a foot in most areas piping has to offer. Recently I’ve been eager to understand more about my own playing and artistic practice and where it fits into the wider picture of piping and traditional music generally, but more specifically within the context of Glasgow as a historic melting pot of piping traditions. Studying for a Masters will allow me the focused time needed to explore this. Additionally, as someone who has made their living out of piping for over the past 15 years without qualifications beyond PDQB certification, a Masters is an ideal route to a recognisable qualification and will bring additional value to my role as a teacher at the NPC.”
• Finlay MacDonald is Head of Piping Studies at the National Piping Centre.