The National Piping Centre offers a wide range of tuition to people from very different backgrounds, and thanks to the rise in popularity of online tuition the NPC has pupils all over the world. One such student is 11 year old, Ella Stewart, who lives in Saudi Arabia and who logs on every week for a lesson with Margaret Dunn.
Ella, originally from Edinburgh, currently goes to Dhahran School in Saudi Arabia. She was inspired to start chanter lessons when she seen her friend in Edinburgh playing the pipes. Her current ambition is to play the pipes on a Scottish mountainside, but her performance highlight so far is playing her practice chanter at the top of a sand dune in Saudi Arabia.
Ella’s favourite tune so far is Flower of Scotland, because after practising a lot, it is beginning to sound good on the chanter and bagpipes. Ella said: “I wanted to learn Flower of Scotland because it is the national anthem, and I already knew and liked the tune. Margaret has also got me working on some other tunes such as Corkhill, Wee Barra, Kate Dalrymple, Orange and Blue, Leaving Barra and Highland Laddie. We are planning to go to Scotland in the summer for a few weeks and I am hoping to attend the TNPC Junior Gathering for four days. I’m looking forward to meeting some other pipers around my age and where I will be learning to play some tunes on the bagpipes.
“With all three drones going, I find it challenging to play higher notes like high A and high G. It is also hard to play the grace notes as they are very short. The lower notes are easier for me to play because with more fingers on the chanter the bagpipes feel steadier. When I start to learn a new tune, I try to learn the notes first on the chanter then I focus on the rhythm. So, it takes a day to a few days to learn a tune well. I don’t practice my bagpipes as much as I would like to because even after about five to ten minutes of practising, I am out of breath quickly and I have to put my bagpipes down and have a little break before I start up again.
“We bought my bagpipes from The National Piping Centre. But Margret picked them up for us as we were in Saudi Arabia and I got to meet her for the first time in Glasgow the summer of 2021 to get my bagpipes after 39 online lessons. By that time, I had done my level 2 chanter exam. And about a month after picking up my bagpipes I did my level 3 chanter exam. I am still learning to be comfortable with my bagpipes but I feel quite confident with them. Going from the chanter to the bagpipes was a big change – I suddenly had to learn to strike in the bagpipes, tune the drones and get the right reeds. It was very complicated at first but now I am starting to understand it. I have only met Margaret once face-to-face when we had gone to pick up my bagpipes, but hopefully I will see her this summer too. I was in Inverness for a week this Easter and took my bagpipes and chanter with me and had some in-person lessons with Brian Yates. He helped me with strike-ins and getting the drone reeds adjusted.
The only other piper I know in Saudi is my friend’s older sibling who plays the bagpipes. The reason I live in Saudi Arabia is that my dad has a job here. Not too long after I started playing the chanter in February 2021, I took part the TNPC U12 Chanter Competition which was online and played Auld Lang Syne. I didn’t win but I feel like I did a good job with it. There will be another of those competitions this year and I am planning to take part in that too.”