Our third member of the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP) to be profiled is Mariko Arimoto.

Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
I am from Japan and I started learning the pipes when I was 20 while I was studying at the University of Stirling for a year as an exchange student. I did not know anything about the culture or the instrument but as I wanted to learn it, I contacted as many pipe bands as possible asking if anyone would teach me. I was lucky enough to receive a reply from a band (I forgot who that kind person was) saying I should go to the National Piping Centre.

How has the pandemic affected your piping personally?
It affected my piping in good and bad ways. The bad aspect was I couldn’t have gigs like before. Many gigs were cancelled last year. But the good thing was I could take part in the CLASP competition because it was held online and I had plenty of time to prepare for it. I always wanted to know my grade and wanted to take part in a traditional competition, but it was just unrealistic for me to travel to Scotland so often for that purpose.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
When I was a kid, my cousin put some chocolate on a Sushi roll and made me eat it without saying what’s inside. It was so dangerous and harmful for a human body and it came out of my mouth automatically immediately after I ate it. I’ve never forgiven him.

What’s your most memorable performance you’ve heard – band or soloist?  
Fred Morrison’s performance at Piping Live! in 2016. I think the way he plays the pipes is one of the most musical and passionate, and I thought that’s the way I want to play the pipes.

Owen with Gordon Duncan and Fred Morison at a 1992 recital he organised in Manchester, England.
Left-to-Right: Owen Nash, Gordon Duncan and Fred Morison at a 1992 recital organised by Owen in Manchester, England.

Who has been the biggest influence on your piping?
Gordon Duncan. Not only his music, but his personality attracts me. Probably I don’t have to say a lot about his influence on the piping world since everybody knows about it much better than I do.

Have you taken part in any show, concerts or recitals recently?
The last gig with my folk band was on January 17 this year, but before that, I waited for 10 months without any gigs since the end of March 2020.  The situation here is not as bad as European countries but concerts have been restricted.  I have another gig this winter but it will never be the same before. A limited number of audience plus live-streaming is the only solution at the moment.

Do you have a go at the local language when abroad?
Yes I do. Well, I have to, because I’m a Japanese and English is the foreign language already. But the thing is, I only knew American English when I first visited Scotland where people speak it in totally different manners. It took me the whole year to understand 50% of what they were talking about. I recorded all the lectures and piping lessons so that I listen to the recording afterwards over and over till I understand the whole thing. I was always asking everyone to speak sloooowly. I also tried to speak Scottish English because I like the accent, just in vain for this 17 years.

Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
I first discovered the great highland bagpipe at a concert in Japan when I was a student. One of my friends learned the pipes in Australia and played it at his concert. Before that, I had never seen nor heard of it in my life. I had only played piano before the pipes.

Do you recall the very first competition you competed in?
The very first competition was only a few months ago, the CLASP competition last November. I was so nervous because I was not even used to play the pipes with my kilt on. I tried too many times but had no idea what was wrong and what was right.  I asked loads of questions in a short period of time to my teacher (Roddy S. MacDonald) and I’m sure he should have been fed up with me.

Favorite piobaireachd?
Lament for the Old Sword (the only piobaireachd I can play in full so far because John Mulhearn at the NPC sang it very nicely when he taught it to me).

Thank you, Mariko!

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