Report from the Italian Spring School 2024

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By WILSON BROWN

On April 25 I set off once again for the Italian Spring School which was being held in the coastal resort of Misano Adriatico near to Rimini. The flight from Glasgow via Frankfurt landed safely in Bologna. This year there were no cancelled flights, delayed flights, lost baggage or any other mishap and I can only put this down to my travelling companion and fellow instructor at the NPC, Ailis Sutherland. Finlay unfortunately had been unable to attend this year and Ailis was persuaded to join me on this trip.   Ailis of course is no stranger to this school having attended with me in 2022 where she made many friends with her style of teaching and her fantastic playing at the informal nightly gatherings.

We were picked up at the airport by Andrea and Corrado and about 90 minutes later we were arriving at the Hotel Alba Serena, a family run hotel about 50 yards from the beach. A wonderful location only matched by the standard of service from the staff. Over the next few days we were to enjoy Italian cuisine and plentiful refreshments, all served to us by extremely friendly and welcoming staff. The arrangements made by Raffaele, president of the Italian Association of Pipers and Drummers, and his team were first class and the school ran very smoothly over the three days.

Ailis and I were joined on the teaching staff by Alberto Massi who continues to make a huge contribution to the development of piping in Italy. Not only is he a very knowledgeable piper his personality fills up any room and we enjoyed many conversations over lunch and dinner with Ailis proving to be a very quick learner of the Italian language. I on the other hand will hang my head in shame at my very poor language skills, I was grateful to Ailis who acted as our interpreter on a number of occasions!

•Tutors and organisers of the Italian Spring School.

This year we welcomed a number of drummers to the school which was a new development and one hopefully that will continue and grow in the future. The drumming instructor was Allan MacDonald and as we introduced ourselves to each other I realised I had played in the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band with his dad in the late 90s and early 2000s. At this point Allan recounted the days as a young boy of marching behind the band at competitions, a small world indeed.

•Ailis and Allan – a piping and drumming collaboration.
•The tutors with the pipers in class 1.

And so to the teaching. Alberto had divided the 27 students into four classes and we followed a timetable of group lessons, workshops and playing as a pipe band. In addition, eight of the students had registered to sit the PDQB examinations ranging from level 4 – 7. The Italian pipers continue to support the examination system and see it as valuable in terms of mapping their progress and also providing the motivation to learn new tunes and expand their knowledge both from a playing and a theoretical perspective.

•The tutors with the pipers in class 2.

The classes were delivered in a friendly and relaxed environment and the students had the opportunity to ask the ‘daft boy’ questions. Many of the students really benefited from discussing the instrument and the difficulties of setting up the bagpipe. It was also apparent that accessing quality products such as reeds was proving a challenge and at times a frustration. However, through these types of schools and the knowledge of Italian pipers such as Alberto, hopefully the students are developing their own knowledge and skills in this area. It is sometimes all too easy to forget these struggles and how many of us were fortunate to have help close at hand in the early stages of our piping journey.

•Emanuele Fontana receiving the ‘most promising’ award with the tutors and students.

As always we closed the school with a lunch and all students were presented with certificates and photographs taken to mark the occasion. Unfortunately a number of students had to leave early as they had travelled from all over Italy and faced a seven hour drive back home – that’s dedication for you! Ailis and I selected a couple of students for special mention based on their contribution and they received an invite to attend one of the NPC’s Adult Gatherings, either in person or online. The ‘Most Promising’ was awarded to Emanuele Fontana and the ‘Most dedicated’ to Elisa Brescianini.

•Elisa Brescianini receiving the ‘most dedicated’ award from the tutors.

So the Italian School came to an end, Ailis and I travelled to Bologna the next day for our return journey home. Once again an enjoyable few days of teaching with students who are friendly, attentive and enthusiastic.  My thanks to Alberto for once again being a great teacher and ambassador for Italian piping. To Raffaele and the Italian Association for their continued partnership with the NPC in organising this school, and finally to Ailis for her support in ensuring a successful and thoroughly enjoyable Italian Spring School. 

•The tutors with the pipers in class 4.