Improve your piping this summer

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With the summer holidays upon us what is the piper to do with his/her free time? We have two suggestions: visit some of the piping places in Scotland (if you live in the UK, that’s fairly easy) – and improve your technique and musicality.

The second suggestion is also easy. The National Piping Centre has plenty of options for the piper wishing to improve their playing, be it from a novice or professional level. As one of our bloggers remarked here last May, this pandemic period in our recent history is a time when pipers of all abilities should be taking the time to appreciate and understand the sound of the instrument itself. It’s a time also when pipers can take stock of their own playing and work on improvements, both to their sound and their playing.

However, this period has also seen plenty of newcomers to the instrument. One such is Vickie Gray from Nova Scotia in Canada. Vickie’s husband plays the pipes and during lockdown she decided to take up the instrument. She took online lessons from the NPC’s teacher, Margaret Dunn and came on so well and so quickly that she joined the NPC’s Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP). At its recent competition she won Grade 4 ceòl mòr category.

Vickie is a pottery maker runs Old Barn Pottery. She first came to our attention in 2019 when she took a stall at the Piping Live! Trade Fair that year, selling her beautiful, bespoke mugs (with pipe scores painted on them). She was so inspired by the festival she purchased a practice chanter and tutor book whilst she was here. The rest is history. From absolute beginner in August 2019 to a prizewinner less than two years later. Not bad!

Vickie said: “I’ve learned lots of instruments as an adult, but believed the myth that it’s almost impossible to learn bagpipes as an adult. Then we went to Piping Live! and I saw thousands of pipers, some of whom started learning as adults at the NPC! I bought a chanter and the NPC tutor book at the Trade Tair, but once back home had no idea what to do next.

Vickie Gray competing in the recent online CLASP Virtual Highland Games in her pottery studio.

“My husband and I both knew he shouldn’t try to teach me! The closest professional teachers were two hours away each way and I just didn’t have time to drive for that long. I joined a new local band who offered group lessons for a huge fee, but the Pipe Major was a terrible teacher … I gave up on pipe bands (probably forever) … Then the pandemic hit about six months after I started on the chanter. I had been following the NPC and Piping Live! since we were vendors, and saw the notice for the first online Adult Gathering. I signed up and it was brilliant!

“I was excited that the NPC was expanding into online services because there really is nothing like it anywhere else but Glasgow.”

Vickie then enroled on the next online Adult Gathering, held last November. She bought a set of pipes and began online competitions. She continues: “My results were pretty limited. Though I’d only been playing for a year, I wanted to be better. I realised I needed individual tuition, and after learning from Margaret [Dunn] on the November Gathering and being really impressed (I used to be an adult educator, so I understand what’s happening when people teach). I started with her on weekly online hour-long lessons.

“My progress has been quite amazing since. Several people have commented on it. She has cleaned up and rebuilt a lot of my technique, including my birls and D throws. I have worked on piobaireachd, strathspeys, reels and jigs for the first time, and I have been able to memorise tunes since taking the CLASP workshop on it. I feel a lot more confident and am still learning new ways of practicing, playing, and approaching the music every week.

“When the CLASP opened to Grade 5 playing up to Grade 4, it seemed like another good chance for me to set a goal and work toward it. I was quite shocked to have won the Grade 4 Piobaireachd, after only playing for a year and a half. I put that entirely down to Margaret’s teaching.”

Pipers wishing to avail themselves of quality tuition this summer should contact the NPC in the first instance. There are a few one-to-one teaching places available as well as a few places on its popular Adult Gathering.

Wilson Brown
Wilson Brown.

Wilson Brown, one of the NPC’s longest serving teachers, said: “We have had an extremely busy period with online teaching in recent months. With the summer now upon u,s a number of slots have opened up in our teaching schedule and we have some availability with our knowledgeable and experienced teaching staff.

“Whether you are a beginner, novice or experienced competitor and need some advice and guidance, whether it is one lesson or a block of ten lessons or one of our intensive courses, have a look at our lesson options on our website and book your lessons now.

“All of our lessons are currently online and with the lack of face to face competitions this may be the time for you to test yourself through the PDQB examinations. Our instructors who are all trained assessors can guide you through the syllabus from Level 2 novice right through to Level 8 for the advanced player.”