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Six years ago, David Hannay opened his home to a group of bellows pipers and organised a week of tuition and diversion, and with (now legendary) lunches provided by Janet, his wife. Born from a long held wish to encourage pip- ing in the Southwest of Scotland, it became an an- nual fixture known as the Gallowav Summer Session School. Now, along with the

Melrose weekend, Collogue, Competition and Burns Supper, it is included as an LBPS an- nual event, and the venue has been moved to the Scottish Agricultural College. Auchin- cruide, near Ayr, as part of ‘Common Ground Scotland’. Now Jock Agnew, who has been one of the tutors since the Summer School was first started, assesses the effect of this move.


Any change to a well-tried formula can bring uncertainties.

The first week in August, the height of the holiday season, was purposely chosen for the Summer School so that pipers could bring their families along to this popular and beautiful holiday area. Then, leaving the pipers to squeeze new techniques out of long-suffering bellows and bags, the families can go visiting or exploring or take part in the many village Galas that spring up at this time of the year. And for the evening activities - folk clubs, din- ners, session playing - they can join in. And it can also be good camping weather, and that saves on the B & B bill - though Neil Corbett might not whole-heartedly agree about the weather as he explains on page 10.

There is no conflict of interest between the Melrose weekend and the Galloway Summer School. Indeed, they complement one another. The weekend allows pipers to be shown new methods and techniques and be introduced to new tunes to take home and practice. Given a whole week of tuition, though, as is provided in the Galloway Summer School, pipers can build on technique and musical knowledge and monitor their progress. There is a positive development of skills, and an increase in understanding and repertoire. Tutors have a better chance to assess individuals. They can build on existing skills, and steer the piper away from any doubtful practices that may inhibit development. There is also the opportunity to give individual tuition away from the group environs.


Now, those evenings. It has been a feature of the Galloway Summer School that the eve- nings are arranged not only as a spell of relaxation and entertainment, but the pipers can gain experience in playing before strangers and along with other instruments and with other instruments and with other musicians. And although these evenings form only a voluntary part of the course, few pipers opt out. Families can meet up and listen or take part.

On the first, day, the Monday, all the pipers and any family members are encouraged to get together for a meal. This a great chance to complete the process of putting names to faces. Then when the tables have been cleared and the chairs pushed back, pipes and other folk instruments appear, and tunes are shared. This year there was an English concertina, two or three fiddles, any number of whistles, a mandola, and a harmonica or two. Some play from the written music (and here the LBPS Session book is frequently in evidence) while others might look on and listen and maybe learn a thing or two

With the course now based in Dumfries, the folk clubs of previous years were, for the most part, denied to us because of distance. Instead, an evening was held in the Globe Tavern in Dumfries (famous for having been one of Burns’ regular watering holes), and where local musicians meet from time to time. And Tuesday night was one of those times!

The beer glasses fair rattled with the swing of the music from smallpipes, Border pipes, Cornish pipes, whistles and fiddles. On that evening Matt Seattle drove over from Ga- lashiels, thereby doubling the number of Border pipes in evidence. And Robert Burns him- self looked benignly down from his frame on the wall as tunes from Dixon and Peacock and other sources filled the air.

Wednesday saw us all at the pub in Corsock, where the local folk musicians joined in when they could and led the field when they couldn’t - playing incredibly rapid Irish jigs (why use only one note when 12 will do!). Thursday, the final evening, we stayed on the campus, and were joined by Wendy Stuart and a class of clarsachs. There was also a massed band of smallpipes - well, ok, that was us - encouraged by the other tutor, Iain MacInnes.

When quiet descended on the Friday afternoon and the last car had left the premises, there was time to take stock. Those attending the course had been invited to complete an ap- praisal of the venue, the facilities, the food, the organisation and the teaching. For the most part it was ‘thumbs up’, with just some minor hiccups on room availability. The campus itself, with the open outlook (the river Nith not far below), seems ideally suited to this sort of week.

So now the indefatigable David Hannay is organising the next one on behalf of the LBPS for 2004 - for which the dates and details are on the back cover of Common Stock.


Fear and trepidation cured in a

lunatic asylum -

a week’s therapy at the LBPS Summer School


Neil Corbett gives his impressions of the teaching week in Galloway and hopes that it might give encouragement to similarly hesitant novice pipers.

It was with some trepidation that I drove up the M6 on my way to the LBPS summer school at Dumfries. I’m only a novice piper, and self taught at that. How would I fare under the scrutiny of the proper pipers? Would it all be beyond me? The last thing I needed was a blow to my confidence (or what little I had) with my smallpipes.

Well, Monday dawned somewhat dismally. I had elected to camp at a site just outside Dum- fries, camping being one of my other hobbies, and the LBPS week turned out to be one of the few wet weeks this summer - just my luck! The event is held on the site of a former lunatic asylum, and I was beginning to feel that was personally appropriate.

Arriving at the site was however a pleasant surprise, because it’s a lovely place - elegant buildings in well manicured parkland. Anyway, clutching my natty plywood pipecase, I took a deep breath and stepped inside the building to be met by a very genial chap who turned out to be David Hannay and was quickly made to feel welcome. Other students were assembling and introductions were soon sorted. At least people seemed friendly enough. 1 began to relax just a bit.

After the usual introductory session we split into two groups, in which we remained for the rest of the week. I was safely in the beginners / novices lot along with just four others. Next day it was one less because one of us was rightfully promoted to the top group. So us nov- ices had a lot of personal attention, and of course we were to be tutored by the redoubtable Jock Agnew, who as many of you will know, has tact, patience and understanding by the bucketful. Not that Jock will let you get away with sloppy playing, and woe betide anyone who lets their chanter dangle.


The general pattern of each morning was a group lesson in some aspect of basic technique, with each of us being called upon to have a go under Jock’s watchful eye. After that each of us would be set an individual practice exercise by Jock according to our ability. To do these exercises free from distraction, we were able to take advantage of the many vacant rooms in the building, so we each had our own private space which Jock would come and visit in turn.

There were university staff still working in the building and quite what they thought of strangled sounds of doublings etc. being practised over and over from every nook and cranny I can only imagine. To their eternal credit, they just smiled!

We novices were a mixed bunch. Two had border pipes, I had my A smallpipes, and the fourth member, Fergus, had none! He was a singer who wanted to try out bellows pipes to see how they would work as an accompanying instrument. Amazingly he had never set hands on pipes before.

So it goes to show that you don’t have to be an expert to attend the summer school. Jock lent him a set of smallpipes, and by the end of the week Fergus was making all the right noises.

I’m not sure what the top group were up to, but they all seemed busy. I think quite a few new tunes were learned. We all met up at breaks of course, so we didn’t feel segregated.

After a very acceptable lunch each day, there would be a bit more basic work, followed in mid afternoon by a workshop for the whole school. By then I was usually too exhausted to practice much more and welcomed the break. My favourite workshop was “making your pipes easier to play” by Richard and Anita Evans, in which I learned a lot about setting up and maintaining smallpipes. Other sessions were on border repertoire and on modes and scales.

Each evening the group would gather for a session somewhere in Dumfries or a short drive away, and we were often joined by local session musicians. The best of these sessions was in the Globe Inn, apparently Rabbie Burns’ old local, where we had an appreciative audi- ence, and we were joined by Matt Seattle who had driven over from Peebles. These sessions gave us novices a chance to hear the proper pipers, notably the brilliant Iain MacInnes who tutored the top group, and of course Jock.

Sadly, I had to miss the final day in order to get home for a funeral, but the week was more than worth the effort. So my initial fears were groundless. Thanks to Jock I learned a great deal, and really felt I had had a lot of individual help. Not only that I had made some new friends, and generally had a good time. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to pipers of any standard. My thanks and congratulations go to David, Jock and Iain for a great week I very much hope to return next year, although I don’t aspire to move up groups. I’ll be very happy and comfortable to keep my L plates on for a while longer.