Dr Simon McKerrell: Act now for the future of piping and drumming


Many of us have been following the COVID-19 updates from the UK, Ireland and around the world over the past year and more, and are hugely thankful that in Scotland and the UK at least, the vaccine roll out is beginning to give us hope for a return to social life.

Some of us are even thinking about how pipe bands might return to regular practice, and whenever possible, when piping and drumming competitions and events might emerge to enrich our lives once again. What is now time critical, is that in the piping and drumming community we act now, in the next two to three weeks, to save an entire generation of young musicians from missing out.

Across Scotland, England and in Wales and Northern Ireland at least, it has now been confirmed that all school children will be returning to full-time schooling this month. There are exceptions, of course, for the most vulnerable kids who are shielding, but I think I can speak for many parents who are grateful that our children are going to be back with their friends and teachers in a proper learning environment. It is vital, that piping and drumming is there, too. 

What we need is a national effort in the coming month for all of us who are involved in teaching piping in local bands and communities to make contact with our local schools and begin a conversation about a recruitment drive. If an entire generation of young people are not to be lost, we must actively go out and recruit them to our local pipe bands and piping groups. 

Niall stewart's Lochalsh Juniors march into the circle last Saturday.
Lochalsh Juniors march into the circle at the 2018 British Pipe Band Championships.

The issue of whether or not in-person demonstrations will be allowed or desirable is key here; some Head Teachers will not be keen on bringing in any non-essential staff to their places of learning.

However, it is still the case that we could offer digital demonstrations and recruitment events locally via one of the online platforms. The kids will only be in school for a matter of weeks in the summer term, and many of them will have important assessments to think about, but when we return to face-to-face practice, lessons and rehearsal, we have to ensure that we have new young learners to whom we can pass on the music.

At the very least, this should be something that we are discussing in our local pipe band communities and with schools and our local authority providers. All levels of the piping and drumming community should be engaged now with a big national recruitment drive to stop an entire generation from losing out. 

* Dr Simon McKerrell is a Reader in Music and Society at Newcastle University and has previously worked at the Universities of Sheffield, Glasgow and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He is interested in the social impact of music and the creative industries. Competitively, he has won the Dunvegan Medal (plus four Clasps to the medal) and, at the 2007 Northern Meeting, the A Grade March, Strathspey and Reel. Simon was also a member of the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band.