Successful Piobaireachd Seminar at Apiti

Another successful CNP seminar held at Makoura Lodge just after Hastings saw over 30 participants join Murray Henderson and Greg Wilson for an intensive week of piobaireachd learning. Murray’s report is as follows:

It was fantastic to have the numbers we did, and also to see so many teenagers present. That coupled with the two “mature” Piob. learners, meant we had a very wide spectrum to accommodate. To that end we decided to split the attendees into three groups which meant there would always be one group not having an actual lesson, but we balanced that for them by offering them three options:

  • Individual time to work on their own playing
  • Observe either Greg or I teaching. This could have several benefits – to take in an additional tune or perhaps pick up teaching tips.
  • Chill out and clear their mind in readiness for their next lesson

The classes were split in such a way to try to benefit all students.

Group 1: The Clasp and Gold Medal players were put in one group. The Clasp players being the main focus at one lesson and the Gold Medal players were the main focus at the next lesson and etc. Whilst the Clasp players were more developed as you would imagine, they were also able to benefit from the material we were working on with the Gold group. We were after all trying to focus not only on the stylistics of tunes but also focus on a general awareness and how to quickly assess what was “wrong”.  Tunes covered for Clasp were: Phantom Piper & Lament for Hugh. For the Gold group, My King Has Landed & Isobel Mackay.

Group 2: The Silver and Bronze players worked very well in the next group. The pressure was on the Silver players to show that they were “better”, and the other side of that coin was watching the Bronze players trying to show that they were “as good” as the Silver players. The interesting thing about this group was the first tune we handed out – “The MacDonald’s Are Simple” which of course is one of the set tunes for your Silver next year. All the Bronze players handled this tune with ease. This I think endorses your foresight regarding set tunes moving forward.  The other tune we covered with them was Hector MacLean’s Warning.

Group 3: The two adult and two teenage “beginner Piob.” students were put together. This was a real mix as one had made a start to a couple of tunes but they were all slightly unsure of some of the embellishments. We gave them a crash course on the basic embellishments to get them started on firm ground, and then proceeded with their selected tune, The Marquis of Argyll. We stayed with that tune for the duration as it was a great chance to get them totally comfortable with Piob. and this should stand them in good stead as they progress.

We also offered all attendees the chance of one to one time with Greg or myself.  This time was totally owned by the students, and some chose to review the tune they played at Hastings, others took the chance to have additional time on the new material and others wanted endorsement on teaching methods etc.

Greg led sessions on both drone and chanter tuning.  We also covered “stage presentation”.

On the Monday evening I delivered a power point presentation on “Competition Preparation” or as I put it, the five links in the chain. The idea was for this not to be a lecture, but rather a sharing of ideas that have worked very well for me during my career, and to have good interaction with all the students – which indeed it did.

Tue. & Wed. evenings were for “informal tunes” by the students. They were free to play anything they wanted. This was a great opportunity for them to have tune in public in front of friendly faces. It was just the case of blowing the pipes up and getting on with it as there wasn’t space available for a warm up. Most performers seemed to play one or two 6/8’s and then part or all of a Piob. It was noticeable that the sheets from Hastings had been read, and the approach to music at the seminar was immediately obvious. After the informal tunes on the Tue. night, a viewing of the concert I did recently for the Big Music Society was requested, and whilst it is not publicly available due to copyright, a bootleg was floating around and I did think that a showing may provide an insight to what is going through my mind when I am playing tunes – the string quartet providing all the flavours of colour that are hard to bring out on solo bagpipe. We kicked of the informal tunes on the Wed. night with the twelve players that were the bronze/silver group attempting to perform the MacDonald’s are Simple from memory – as an ensemble. My reasoning here was to show them how easy it is to memorize and develop a tune in a short space of time. It was possible that the some of the “bronze” players were going to be out of their comfort zone after the Urlar, and I told them to simply drop off rather than to start guessing. Some did – and others saw it a little bit like “last man standing”! Two of the Bronze players continued on with the silver players to completed the tune, including the amach – I was extremely proud of their achievement.  Once they were left as a tight group there was hardly a wrong note in sight, and under conducting they had a very good grasp of the tune indeed.

It was a very friendly gathering and Greg and I certainly thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of trying to teach/help/stimulate the participants. Fantastic to see three of our friends from Australia fronting up – quite a commitment for them indeed. Everyone seemed to feed off each other which kept the mood very vibrant.

Special mention about the “young ones”. They were an absolute credit to themselves. It must have been a step into the unknown for them but their enthusiasm for the music and eagerness to take on the challenge was outstanding. It was also most noticeable that all the practice chanter work we could hear at lunch breaks was all Piob. Imagine fourteen young players all congregating and practicing the tunes we were working on! It wasn’t until the Wed. pm that they broke loose with some light music – which was nice to hear as well – but they knew that main focus was Piob., and they fully embraced that.

All in all, a totally memorable time from a personal point of view, and thank you again for having me. It was fantastic to have Greg’s tireless contribution, and we both had the very same feeling about how enthusiastic everyone was.

Also many thanks to Marion, who made sure that everyone was well looked after and generally made sure we were well looked after. That let us all concentrate on our job, knowing everything was going smoothly behind the scenes.

Wishing you all lots of good music,


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