A piping pedigree from Boghall & Bathgate Pipe Band, The National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland and a BMus Trad Music – Piping degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, have combined to give Ross Miller a very busy musical working life as normality returns to the world.

He has his own list of pupils for private solo lessons that are conducted mostly online, but also in-person once a month in a hall in West Lothian.  He is also the current secretary of the Competing Pipers Association and will be playing in the Silver Medal and round the games this year. His Foot Stompin’ Ceilidh Band are in full swing at the moment with 120 bookings for 2022 as people are catching up with wedding bookings and corporate events that were postponed in 2020 and 2021.

Ross also has his own cancellations from 2020 to fulfil when he will promote his album, The Roke, with a tour in June this year.  The Roke was released in early 2020 (and reviewed in Piping Today issue 100), but Ross had to put all promotions on hold as the world shut down for Covid-19.  His gigs start in the Hug & Pint in Glasgow on June 13; Linlithgow, June 17; Hootananny Inverness June 24 (on the eve of the European Championships — all welcome); Benbecula, July 23 and the Sychrov Highland Games in the Czech Republic on August 20. 

He is also a member of the Inveraray & District Pipe Band and has had to factor in a weekly band practice and monthly weekend practice since November 2021, but things are just about to get even busier. Ross said: “Starting now, we are back to two practices per week. To get to this stage, a month out from the first major, with only one practice per week has been nice. But we also have the pre-Worlds concert to prepare for, so rather than the usual four sets of music to learn, we have 20 set this year.

“The onus has been put on the Inveraray players to turn up with a working instrument and knowing the tunes and the band members have risen to the challenge. The band is sounding as good as ever, but with less band practices.”

•Ross on the left of the Inveraray & District Pipe Band as they celebrate their win at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2019 • ©JohnSlavin@designfolk.com/Bagpipe.news

Ross has been working for the Isle of Arran Music School since he graduated from the RCS in 2017.  Drumming tuition is provided by ScottishPower drummer and ex-NYPBS member, Thomas Barnes.  The project was initially funded for three years by the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust with matched funding from a donor on the island.  The initial plan was to include as many children as possible in the project.  There was also funding from the Scottish Government’s Youth Music Initiative which is administered by Creative Scotland.  Ross explained: “This YMI funding was targeted at Whiting Bay Primary school and every pupil in primary five, six and seven had to receive bagpipe or drumming tuition as part of the YMI provision.  We also went to the secondary school, Arran High, and every child in first year got tuition on pipes or drums as part of their music class. There was also afterschool classes at Arran High that primary pupils would attend.

“The whole project has grown so that we now have a competing band and a development band. So my Thursday routine is now: get the 9.45am Arran boat, tuition at Whiting Bay Primary and then go to Arran High for classes, then after school lessons and then two band practices. I then stay overnight so I can give more high school tuition on a Friday morning. It’s all go, but it’s great!

“We also got funding from the Co-op Local Community Fund for uniforms, and the SSPDT have come back in to give incremental funding over the next three years. It costs a lot to get two people on and off the island.

“The project is really at its capacity, which is absolutely fabulous, and it is all run by a charity called the Isle of Arran Music School. They are providing tuition from Thomas and I for bagpipe and drums, clarsach tuition, fiddle from the Arran Fiddle Club, and also guitar, brass and woodwind instruments with tutors sent over by North Ayrshire Council.  Quinton Black is the chairperson of the charity who drives it all, doing a lot of voluntary work and helping to raise funding for uniforms, pipes and everything else.  He is deputy head teacher of six primary schools on the island.

“The Arran Pipe Band have also contributed towards buying instruments. Our bands share the same uniform, and part of our repertoire is shared, so about seven of the Music School pipers go along regularly to their practices.

“When I first started working on Arran there were four pupils who already played with the Isle of Arran Pipe Band and it was invaluable to have their experience as a motivational tool in the early days of the project. But they have moved on and there is now only one person in the competing band that I have not taught from scratch, which is really nice from a personal point of view. 

“I currently have 13 pipers in my competition band and eight in the development band, with 43 learning pipes and 34 learning drums in total in the project currently.  I’m only there one day a week, and I really can’t emphasise enough how busy I am when I get onto the island each Thursday. 

“We are also running a leadership programme alongside the music tuition and we have three of my Arran High School students giving tuition to my primary school pupils.  I support the three students to take a group of primary pupils each week, where they teach the basics, and the three students will receive a formal qualification in Music Leadership at the end of the programme.  

Ross grew up with a competitive piping mindset as he was taught as part of the Boghall & Bathgate Pipe Band system, and then he taught in that system once he was in the Boghall & Bathgate Grade 1 band, and it is this mindset that he brought to the Isle of Arran. “When I first went to Arran I knew we we were going to have a pipe band and we were going to compete,” said Ross. “We were supposed to compete at the majors in 2020, but we will compete for the first time in Novice Juvenile B at the British Championships in Greenock on May 21.

“We are also going to Ardrossan Highland Games, the Scottish Championships at Dumbarton, Arran Highland Games and the World Pipe Band Championships this summer.  The band will have a chance to watch me play with Inveraray and Thomas with ScottishPower at the major championships, and I’m really excited for them to experience a pipe band competition and see that it is much bigger than what we do on Arran. Hopefully that will help them buy into the competition scene, and motivate them to do better at the next one.

“I’m trying to sell them the dream of one day playing off the car deck of the ferry as winners coming home into Brodick, and you just never know…”

The RSPBA published a list of upgraded, downgraded and new bands to its website on April 15, with Isle of Arran Music School added to the list of new bands. The full list of changes can be read here.