When I teach bagpipes one-to-one it isn’t only my 40 years’ experience of teaching and playing that I pass on to the pupil but, more importantly, the experience and wisdom of my own teachers. My piping teachers are in a sense always with me. I still hear their advice and being able to pass on that advice to my pupils is a great tool for me as a teacher and benefits the pupil enormously.
My first teacher was Pipe Major Ian Fraser of Foregin (a.k.a. The Sheriff). Ian had been the Lone Piper at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, had passed the tough Pipe Majors course at Edinburgh Castle and had enjoyed success and recognition at the Northern Meetings for his piobaireachd, including being invited to judge at this, the most prestigious piping competition in the world. On a recent visit I made a recording of him playing on electronic pipes and the clarity of his fingering even at 80 years, is amazing.
The major influence in Ian’s piping career was the much-revered Donald MacLeod MBE.
Ian was Donald‘s Pipe Sergeant in the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders and he often spoke of “Wee Donald” in terms of great respect as a player, teacher and family friend. The attached photo is of Donald MacLeod playing at Ian and Bessie’s wedding.
As a teenager I visited Ian on many Saturdays for lessons and to help on his farm, enjoy the banter, and hear stories of his piping escapades. He also talked about his own line of piping tuition from which I was able to trace my line of teachers back to Patrick Og MacCrimmon. Patrick Og took over the post of hereditary piper to the Macleods of Dunvegan in 1570 and as head of the family piping school at Boreraig , Skye is considered to have been their greatest teacher.
In the evening after the lesson Ian would play himself while dogs and babies slept all around. It was from Ian that I developed a love of piobaireachd, and he taught me several in my younger years which are still with me.
In my later years I had the benefit of additional piping tuition on summer schools in Skye from the late Pipe Major Evan McRae a past winner of Gold for his piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting and also from Dugald MacNeill, Head of the College of Piping.
More recently I’ve been privileged to receive extensive guidance and knowledge from Gordon Rowan, head of the Army Piping and Drumming School. Gordon has years of teaching experience as the senior army instructor. Apart from correcting my bad habits which I had collected over the years when I was without a tutor, he has taught me a most valuable thing for me as both a player and a teacher. Now I can hear things in my own and other peoples’ playing I hadn’t noticed before.
There is another lesson here too which I have really taken on board. Solo players can drift into bad habits and comfort zones without realising it. That’s why we need someone else to listen to us and give constructive criticism. It is no surprise that someone as experienced even as Gordon still visits another master for one-to-one tuition.
Wherever you are in the world, if you are a solo bagpiper keep this in mind – if you seek it out you can find a friendly ear to advise and help you stay on track to perform to your best.
If you can’t find someone local I am only a couple of mouse clicks away for a chat and an exploratory lesson.
If you are a complete beginner, be assured you will get tuition from me in the style of a very long tradition of highland pipers.