page 19

page 20


Helen Ross and Kath Corbett report on the Society’s summer teaching course at the Common Ground gathering in Ayr, which turned out to be an enjoyable experience, though not without its problems.


Jock Agnew in a multicultural session


 The LBPS PIPING course was organised again this year by the indefatigable David Hannay as part of Common Ground. It took place at Ayr Campus (part of Paisley University) instead of Auchincruive outside Ayr, since the status of the Agricultural College at Auchincruive was uncertain.

The late change of venue caused some chaos with the Common Ground organisation, but we enjoyed excellent teaching rooms in the Ayrshire Management Centre at Craigie - a beautiful old building. The parkland campus was also very beautiful, and the good weather made walking between buildings most enjoyable and it was very convenient to have every- thing together on one campus.

This was my first experience of Common Ground, and I assumed that it was some sort of master piping organisation, named after the Ground in pibroch. Actually it had nothing much to do with piping until the LBPS infiltrated it. I was told that it is a movement that started in the States, to encourage the sharing of culture and the promulgation of peace.

Common Ground encourages whole families to attend, and there were plenty of activities for children during our week. Participants usually take their chosen courses in the morning (music, dance, singing, Gaelic, painting, sculpture etc) and dabble in other classes in the afternoon or take part in discussions about cultural diversity and conflict resolution. It was a bit hard to find out what was going on, because the Common Ground philosophy is to allow flexibility so that happenings can occur. I never found a happening, because they were usu-


-ally not listed until after they had happened.

I was accosted at the entrance to Craigie House by a forlorn teacher calling out, “Anyone for sword dancing?”, but I was on my way elsewhere. I did try to track down Gaelic, and only found it on my last day because David Hannay was attending and knew where it was. It was also rumoured that you could do yoga before breakfast, but I did not attempt to verify this. After an early high tea you could join an hour’s choir practice for the Gospel Choir (ably led by traditional singers Heather Heywood and Gordeanna McCulloch).

There was a concert each evening at 7.30 which might last till about 11pm. The concerts were varied and excellent, but the highlight for me was the lanky Pete Coe singing As I Roved Out while stamping out the rhythm with his clogs. After the concerts the serious ses- sions started, with instruments and voices flying till 2 or 3am. These tended to be dominated by nubile girl fiddlers, who stared adoringly at their teacher, bonnie Pete Clark, whilst delivering Maggie’s Pancakes and Troy’s Wedding at breakneck speed. This made it a bit difficult for some of us lesser mortals to join in, so I would deliberately drop the pace with some stately O’Carolan tunes on the concertina. On our last night we pipers started our own rival session in the common room of the accommodation block.

Common Ground made a pleasant backdrop to our own LBPS piping classes, which was attended by 13 people. Iain MacInnes was teaching the more advanced pipers, and Jock Agnew the beginners and Border pipes. Richard and Anita Evans also gave a workshop on bagpipe maintenance.

I was in Iain’s class, along with several friends from previous years. We revisited The Curlew, which seemed easier than two years ago. The secret, as in many other tunes, lies in mastering those GDE gracenotes played against various combinations of lower notes. Most of the other players had learnt the Highland Pipes and had no problems with grace notes, but I still find them tricky. I am still defeated when attempting to learn new tunes by ear in a group situation, because I can’t distinguish the sound of my own pipes from those of others. Was that wrong note mine, or did it come from the piper on my left? The solution is to go off and practise alone.

Jock’s class had five “beginners”, but four of these were already experienced players of the Highland or uilleann pipes and were only learning bellows control. Kath Corbett was a complete beginner, and comments on the difficulty of this in her own account. Grierson Smith was a Highland Piper, and said he wanted to run before he could walk, but found co- ordination “a whole new bellows game”. Jock taught tunes by ear, which suited some play- ers but not others, and his loud Border pipes were good for leading the tunes during group playing.

Among the piping participants were one from Canada, one from Germany, five from England, and six from Scotland. The German was Christian Tschirch from Berlin, who played the uilleann pipes very well. I have often met Germans at piping, step dance and Gaelic classes. Why Germans rather than Spaniards or French? One theory is that the Ger- mans became ashamed of their own folk culture because it was hi-jacked by the Nazis. This


left them bereft of their own traditions, so they were enticed by an alien culture belonging to peaceful noble savages. Maybe. Christian could give no reason, except that he was entranced when he first heard the bagpipes. It is strange and sad that our wonderful music is more popular abroad than at home. - HR



 TO QUOTE THEIR website, Common Ground is “a traditional music and arts organisation whose purpose is to offer a quality learning experience with master musicians, artists, writ- ers and crafts people while exploring cultural diversity in search of a ‘common ground’ among ethnic, gender, age and racial groups.” In fact, it turned out to be a group of friendly people working hard to achieve their stated goal of “seeking racial and cultural harmony through the arts” - and giving everyone a good time in the process. It is rather hard to describe exactly what it was like, but if you think of it as a cross between a folk festival and a folk camp you might be getting somewhere near.

Having been persuaded to come this year by Neil (Corbett) eulogising about Auchin- cruive, we were a little disappointed to find the whole thing moved to Ayr main campus. Certainly the surroundings didn’t live up to the previous year, but the warmth of the wel- come by the CG people did. Most people at the CG were regulars but the organisers worked hard to make everyone welcome and feel included. Unfortunately, they hadn’t really thought out the camping and it was some while before water and toilets were available with- out us having to walk to (and around) the main building. But I am sure that next year they will have improved things. Though the organisation was a little shambolic, it was pleasantly casual and friendly; and the organisers did try, very hard, to put matters right when they were wrong.

Having so much going on meant there was something for partners to do if they were not interested in piping; and it provided a reason to attend the course for people who are inter- ested in piping but not enough for an exclusive week of it. If you were camping, you rather missed out on the spontaneity of sessions in the accommodation block (I believe there was a fabulous piping one on Thursday). However, the main concert and session were a wonderful way to finish each day, although going to bed at 1.30-ish was a bit silly with a hard ahead!

It is a little daunting to be in a beginners class as a real beginner - three of the other mem- bers were long-time Highland pipers and the fourth a uilleann piper, while I’m not even Scottish! Follow that with two days struggling to even produce a note from the pipes, and you can understand I was getting rather depressed. Then Neil decided to use them (I had borrowed his best pipes!) and had the same trouble - the reed was very open (whatever that means), but with a little tweaking, hey-presto, I could play - well, after a fashion. I finished the week playing half a simple tune - with D & G grace notes, believe it or not! The others (I think) finished with a better feel for their bellows and smallpipes in general.

It is difficult to divide all pipers into just two groups of ability, and I felt there was a need for at least one “intermediate”. Jock divided our group up by sending a couple of us off to practise on our own. The lack of rooms meant that I had to go outside or back to the tent!


An extra two rooms would enable both classes to be divided, and the tutors could move from group to group so that more participants would be working nearer their own level. Each person would get less than the full tuition time, but what they did get would be more suited to them. Also there would be more tuition time available, if extras that only some of the participants were interested in (like William Dixon’s tunes and practising for the final concert) were left until the afternoon.

I do realise this is expecting a lot from the tutors, and I must say here that Jock and Iain worked very hard all week and must have ended the course exhausted! - KC

In view of various criticisms LBPS members have made of aspects of Common Ground, the LBPS has agreed to discuss these with the organisers and is asking to have a representative on the committee.