Piping centre bags new pupils with web lessons

INTERNET technology is being used to teach students worldwide how to play the bagpipes.

Tutors at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, founded ten years ago to set new standards for the "noble instrument", are teaching students from Germany to Japan, live on the web.

However, the skirl that terrified enemies on the Highland moors, and thrills the crowds at piping band parades, is a little too loud for computers, said the centre's principal, Roddy MacLeod.

"We play with the practice chanter because the quality of the sound is not perfect and the full bagpipe overloads the microphone," he said.

Most of the centre's nine teachers, including several of the world's top pipers, regularly use the Skype videophone system, he said. It is a "natural extension" for the piping centre.

The teaching of bagpipes was banned after Culloden – a barrier to formal training that stayed in place for centuries.

Now, about 700 people take lessons in Scotland with the centre, and it has pupils from 41 countries on its books.

Mr MacLeod teaches an American pupil, a martial arts expert living in Japan, with regular piobaireachd lessons. "He sits in Japan and I sit in my office here and I have successfully taught him three pieces – The Little Spree, Sir James MacDonald of the Isles Lament and Glengarry's Lament," he said.

"I send him the manuscript down the line. If I'm teaching him a new tune, I would play through the microphone and we progress through it line by line.

"He will try and play back what he thinks he is hearing, and I will pick up of points of expression or timing of technique as we go."

While critics say web teaching loses the subtlety and atmosphere of in-person playing, musicians such as the renowned violinist Pinchas Zuckerman have run master classes via the web for several years.

It is only recently that bagpipe courses have taken off, as the technology has improved.

"We are at the beginning of this. We think there will be an explosion," said Lady Oona Ivory, a founder chairman of the centre.

New technology is also set to bring webcams that track a teacher as he moves, rather than forcing him to sit stock-still.

BACKGROUND

&#149 THE earliest claimed reference to bagpipes is on a Hittite slab from Asia Minor, dated to 1000BC.

&#149 By the 1st century AD, bagpipes existed from India to Spain and Egypt. In Scotland, it is claimed they were either a Roman import or came from Ireland.

&#149 Historian and piper Hugh Cheape caused a stir when he claimed that the great Highland bagpipe, the famed Scottish instrument, was actually less than 200 years old. It emerged in the early 1800s at a time when Scots were rediscovering their romantic roots, he argued.

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