Bagpipe teachers to put the skirl back into city schools

THE bagpipes have provided one of the most popular and enduring images of Scotland across the world.

Now pupils in Edinburgh schools are set to get the chance to learn their national instrument in class.

A bagpipe teacher would be employed in schools under plans being considered by city education leaders to improve music lessons.

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The idea is part of a three-year plan to increase the chances children get to learn instruments at school.

Piping has long been on the curriculum at some of the city’s fee-paying schools, but it would be the first time a piping teacher had been hired in all the Capital’s state schools.

The plan has been warmly welcomed by a leading expert on Scottish culture, who said the instrument was wrongly dismissed by many as a part of the country’s "tartan and shortbread tin" image.

Gary West, a lecturer in Scottish Ethnology at Edinburgh University and presenter of Radio Scotland’s Pipeline programme, described the proposals as "excellent".

Mr West said: "It’s about time. We’ve been missing something like this in Edinburgh schools. Several local authorities do this. In Tayside, where I’m from, they’ve been doing it for 20 years and in many parts of the Highlands and through in the west.

"In Edinburgh, piping has always had a high profile as far as the independent schools are concerned. They have a strong tradition in teaching both piping and drumming, but in state schools it has only been if there happens to be a teacher there who is able to teach piping that children will get the chance to learn. It’s been haphazard, so to have structured funding from the centre for this would be excellent for Edinburgh."

Mr West added that there was a strong interest in piping among young people, but some people still dismissed the instrument because of its association with "tartan and shortbread" images of Scotland.

"It is positive thing for young people culturally, socially and economically. I’ve played the pipes all my days and it’s a passport to a lot of places, but it’s more than that.

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"I think bagpipes have got mixed up, especially in the media, in a crass aspect of Scotland’s culture with images of tartan and heather hills.

"There’s a lot happening at all levels, from people like Martyn Bennett, who mix piping with modern aspects of music, to pibroch, which is still strong. It has always annoyed me when piping is dismissed as irrelevant and part of shortbread culture.

"There is so much more and it goes so much deeper. Look at the popularity of Celtic Connections, but that message still needs to be got across and we do need to get it into schools."

The piping proposal is one of a range of new initiatives unveiled by the council to support the arts in Edinburgh’s schools.

A spokeswoman for the education department said: "A new development officer for singing will work with primary schools to encourage more singing opportunities such as area festivals for groups and choirs from schools.

"We also intend to start an Edinburgh Schools Gospel Choir for 14-18 year-olds."

Education chiefs also plan to appoint two principal music officers to oversee the development of music tuition in the Capital.

And they hope to encourage more parents to become involved in supporting the instrumental music service through the formation of a young musicians association.

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The city’s education leader, Ewan Aitken, said: "The role that the arts can play in raising self-esteem and confidence in young people can never be underestimated. The council’s instrumental music service, which sees free lessons and access to bands and orchestras, is an important aspect of our overall support for the arts.

"These initiatives will build on that service and on the already well established programmes of arts and education, including partnerships with festivals and arts organisations, which were rightly identified as key strengths by HMIE."

Lib Dem education spokesman Jim Lowrie today predicted the scheme would capture the imagination of many pupils.

He said: "Most bagpipe tuition has traditionally been offered by the Boys Brigade, Scouts or through churches but it has not really been done in schools. I’d imagine it would be very popular."

The proposals will go before the council executive for approval tomorrow.