LBPS Committee member George Greig will be standing down at the next AGM. We invited him to share his experience of running the Society’s Teaching Weekends

Put simply, the Society’s aims are the promotion of Border music and bellows pipes. Now, while there may be discussion as to what these terms mean and, generally, we have been pretty broad-minded about it, what has been accepted is that teaching has a very important role to play. In addition to Master-classes and workshops, the main events were the Summer Schools and the Teaching Weekends. Sadly, the Summer Schools have fallen out of favour and it is some time since they were last run. On the other hand, the Teaching Weekends have gone from strength to strength.
It has been my pleasure to organise the Teaching Weekends - for longer than I care to remember. Not that I should take any credit for their success since they were already highly successful when Rona handed the organisation over to me.
For many years, the Weekends were held in Melrose. The homely feel of the hotel and the convenient bistro across the road made this a great location. If there were drawbacks with a venue in the Borders, they were that it is not so easy to get there – fine by car but not so great by public transport – and there is always the possibility of being cut off by bad weather at the end of February. On one occasion, two of the tutors were unable to get there on the Friday evening because the road south from Edinburgh was closed due to a sudden snowfall. Happily, they made it on the Saturday morning but I was more than a little concerned. After many happy events at Melrose, the nature of the hotel changed and it ceased to be the welcoming place it had once been.
That meant looking for a new venue. Easily said but surprisingly hard to find. We need a hotel with the right sort of ambience, (so that rules out modern plastic hotels), three teaching rooms and 20 – 25 bedrooms. What’s more, it must be easily accessible by public transport. All this at a price which our members would be prepared to pay. Happily, one of our past Committee members, Helen Ross was able to tell us of a hotel close to where she lives in Bridge of Allan and the fact that we have been there for the last four years says that it fits the bill. And it has a railway station that is still open! The people there make us welcome and the locals seem to like our late-night playing sessions in the bar.
I thoroughly enjoyed the weekends in Melrose when Rona was organising them and I did wonder what I could possibly add to them. Clearly maintaining the high standard of the tutors was essential and, without exception, they have been excellent. My own little addition was to give each Weekend a theme on which the teaching could be based. We have had ‘Rhythm and Dance’, ‘Border and Northumbrian Music’, ‘The Irish Connection’ and ‘Tunes from around the World’. Out of this last theme came the book, published by the Society, ‘A New Way to Melrose’. A couple of years ago we focused on ‘Tradition’, an idea which came out of my reading of Gary West’s excellent book ‘Voicing Scotland’. This last year we picked up on Hamish Moore’s assertion that in playing tunes it was helpful to know if the tune had originally been a song or a dance and lightly touched on how the choice of embellishment (gracing) would influence how a tune sounded.
I suspect that, important though the teaching is, many people come for the social side of things. The number of opportunities for playing with other like-minded individuals is limited and it is great fun playing both in groups in the classes and in the informal sessions in the bar – sometimes to ridiculously late (or should that be early?) hours. For myself, I can only say what a joy it is to play with people such as Iain MacInnes, Carol-Ann MacKay and Annie Grace. Many moons ago, it was the custom to have a dinner for everyone together and this was followed by some sort of after-dinner speech. This makes it sound terribly formal and that was not the case. Probably the highlights were both provided by Julian Goodacre; so good was he that we had him twice. The only adjective that covers his highly entertaining addresses is “surreal”. Which, of course, also implies ‘a hard act to follow’. Which is partly why, for the last few years, we have instead asked a guest to attend the dinner, the price of a free meal being that he should play a few sets for us after the meal. This has been a great success. On occasion, the playing guest has completed his set and then been joined by the tutors for the sort of high powered session that should be committed to CD. It is simply thrilling to hear three or four of the top players each inspiring the others. And then we all retire to the bar and keep playing, sometimes assisted by a selection of other instruments.
We have had many different tutors, all the big names, and without exception, the feedback that we get is of how good they were. Rather than list them all, I would record my thanks to them as a group because they are the ones who have made the weekends so successful. What I would add is that they are all such nice people and so willing to fit in with whatever was required. I think that, for all the techniques or approaches that teachers can bring to any such event, the one that matters most is that they can remember what it was like to be an ordinary mortal, not blessed with such talent.
All this may sound as if only the faces change but that the rest remains the same. I prefer to think in terms of a slow evolution. The most satisfying change over the last couple of years has been the participation of a group of beginners, people who have had bellows pipes for a matter of months. Last year Fin Moore and this year Annie Grace spent time with them on basic technique. The progress that they made over the weekend was remarkable. Who would have thought that, as a class, they would have been happy to play some of the tunes that they had learned at the closing concert. But they did and very good they were too.
The tendency has been to focus on learning new tunes; however, in the last few years we have included a bit more on technique. Fin, for example brought along a pressure gauge and I think most people were surprised to learn just what scope there was for improved bag control! This year, as options, people could opt out of the main classes and attend a workshop on reed maintenance given by Hamish Moore or join in a class for singing with smallpipe accompaniment lead by Judy Barker and Annie. Again the singers demonstrated their talents at the closing concert.
I have enjoyed organising the Teaching Weekends and meeting some lovely folk. I may be handing over the organisation but, already, I am looking forward to attending next year’s event.  

George Greig at Bridge of Allan Weekend 2015