New charity encouraging Scots pupils to play bagpipes

Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championship, Broughton High School, Edinburgh. Picture: nwimagesScottish Schools Pipe Band Championship, Broughton High School, Edinburgh. Picture: nwimages
Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championship, Broughton High School, Edinburgh. Picture: nwimages
It is Scotland’s national instrument and played by musicians across the world.

Now a new national charity is encouraging more pupils to learn the bagpipes and start school bands as a way of building confidence and self-respect.

The Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSDPT) works with more than 1,000 aspiring musicians in 14 projects across 11 local authority areas.

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It started out as an East Lothian-based group before rebranding itself in April to reflect its nationwide activities.

Preston Lodge High School Pipe BandPreston Lodge High School Pipe Band
Preston Lodge High School Pipe Band

“Our prime motivation is not simply to encourage more kids to take up piping - it’s about allowing schools to benefit from having their own band,” said chairman David Johnston. “In our experience the whole school benefits. It’s something they can be proud of and fosters a collective identity.”

The SSDPT has assisted several schools in establishing pipe bands, including Preston Lodge High in Prestonpans, which began with a group of novice pupils in 2007.

“It is impossible to overestimate the impact that piping and drumming has had in Preston Lodge in recent years,” said head teacher Gavin Clark.

“The Preston Lodge Pipe Band has grown quickly from a tentative group of new players into the flourishing figurehead of our school and its community. Young people of all ages and abilities, have benefited immeasurably from the skill development and self-esteem building that piping and drumming can provide.”

The East Lothian band has proved as popular with female pupils as male, something of a rarity in a traditional musical discipline.

Its 2014 intake included 24 girls – compared to just seven boys.

Lee Moore, ­the school’s bagpipe instructor, said ­female students were earning their places in the band on merit.

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“It really surprises most people when they learn that almost 80 per cent of our band members are girls,” he said.

“But in my experience, this is simply down to the fact that they are more determined to master an instrument compared to the boys.”

Traditional pipes and drums does not form part of the standard musical curriculum in many Scottish schools.

The SSDPT works with experienced tutors and pairs them with groups of enthusiastic pupils.

“The bagpipe is Scotland’s national instrument yet most pupils in state schools are not offered the chance to learn the pipes or highland drumming on a par with other instruments,” continued Johnston.

“In Glasgow, you can learn glockenspiel or an alpine horn but you can’t learn the bagpipes.

“Pipe bands promote not just musicianship but self esteem, teamwork, a sense of dress and discipline, fun and friendship.”

The SSDPT joined forces with the Govan Weavers’ Society in 2014 to start a new project in the former heartland of Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry. Working with Govan High School and its feeder primary schools, a new band has been created from scratch in the former burgh on the banks of the Clyde, one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of the city.

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The story of the fledgling group was filmed as part of a new documentary, The Wee Govan Pipers, which will be broadcast on New Year’s Day on BBC Alba.

“Govan has a long association with piping. It was the spiritual home of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, which remains Scotland’s most successful pipe band ever, with 13 world championship titles,” said Johnston.

Strathclyde made its last public performance at the Celtic Connections festival in 2013 before the merger that created the new national Police Scotland force.

“Many of the tutors on the Govan project are either serving or former police officers,” continued Johnston.

“Iain MacPherson, for example, is the current pipe major the Greater Glasgow Police Pipe Band. They are highly regarded pipers and teachers.”

Many of the parents interviewed in The Wee Govan Pipers admitted they were surprised when their child was offered the chance to learn either the pipes or drums through a school project.

“The pipes are very loud, but we have good neighbours,” said Sandra Clark, whose son Scott has taken up the instrument. “I tried to find out if it was very noisy,” said Jinbiao Sheng, whose daughter Brenda is another piping novice. “When Brenda is playing I close the door and it is quite sound proof.”

The Wee Govan Pipers will be broadcast on January 1 on BBC Alba.