27 February–1 March 2015
Ian Mackay reports on his experience of the weekend

Every year the LBPS organises a teaching weekend for players of Scottish smallpipes. This year the event took place at the Royal Hotel in Bridge of Allan at the end of February. I am writing this report so that those of you who couldn’t make it to the weekend get an idea of what you missed out on!
I have been to a number of these teaching weekends before, particularly when it used to take place in Melrose, but since I hadn’t managed to attend one for several years I was interested to see if it was still as worthwhile as it used to be. Including tutors, there were about thirty of us at this year’s event.
The course got off to a lively start! We met in the hotel bar and it didn’t take long for an enjoyable music session to get going, with at least a dozen sets of smallpipes, accompanied by concertinas, whistles, my melodeon and some singing. I was struck by two things on this first evening: there were lots of new members who I hadn’t met before and there were quite a number of players who had only just started playing smallpipes. That was refreshing and is good news for the Society. During this session an effort was made to select a number of tunes from the LBPS ‘Committee Sessions’ tune book which was handed out (free!) to all participants and that allowed most of the less experienced players to get involved in playing as well.
On Saturday morning we were divided into three classes, loosely based upon our previous experience and playing ability. The tutors this year were Annie Grace, who is an actor and singer as well as an accomplished piper, Mike Katz of the Battlefield Band, and Iain MacInnes, who has played in a number of folk bands and who has presented and produced bagpipe music programmes on Radio Scotland. You can find out more about the tutors by looking on the internet, or perhaps by listening to their CDs!
I was in a group of experienced players and we started with a most enjoyable class with Annie. She had played a lovely slow air in the bar session on Friday and we asked her if she could teach us it. The tune is ‘Angus G. Macleod.’ Then we moved on to a couple of jigs. All of the tutors taught their tunes by ear and then produced written music afterwards. A recording device is really useful at these weekends, both in the classroom and in the sessions, so that you can leave with recordings of tunes that you want to learn.
After lunch we spent the afternoon learning tunes from Mike. Mike’s aim was to try and get us familiar with as many tunes as possible and not to try and perfect the tunes in the classroom. We would play through them several times, record them and then take away a copy of the music. We covered a lot of tunes, at a rapid pace! These included two slow Breton airs with unusual timing and a couple of Donegal ‘highlands.’ Mike gave us quite a lot of background about these ‘highlands’ which have some similarity in tempo to Scottish strathspeys. I should mention that all of the tutors left it up to us to decide what grace notes to include in our tunes i.e. there was a lot of flexibility in how the tunes should be played.
During Saturday, Hamish Moore led workshops on reed maintenance and bellows technique. These classes are particularly useful for the less experienced players but I did notice one or two experienced players benefitting from Hamish’s advice! Also during Saturday afternoon, Annie was joined by Judy Barker and they taught a separate group on singing with smallpipes accompaniment.
All of us attended a most enjoyable dinner in the hotel on the Saturday evening. George Greig, who has organised these teaching weekends for many years, was presented with a gift of wine and thanked for all of his hard work. George is taking a break from organising these events and next year’s event will be organised by other committee members.
Also present during the weekend was Callum Armstrong. Callum was invited to play a selection of tunes after dinner and what a treat that was! He played a number of his own compositions, using modified smallpipes that he has helped to develop in conjunction with pipe maker Julian Goodacre. Callum used a chanter that allowed him to play in up to three octaves and he also played smallpipes with a double chanter. His playing was superb, with some fast fingering and some lovely harmonies. You had to wonder at times whether he has more fingers than the rest of us! If you haven’t heard him play before, I can recommend that you search the internet where there are many videos of him playing these smallpipes.
The music session in the bar on the Saturday night was again excellent, with a mixture of tunes and a mixture of instruments being played. It’s always interesting to hear smallpipes from different makers and to hear the different playing styles of members of the Society.
Our Sunday morning class was with Iain. He taught us a nice selection of traditional tunes including a quickstep, a march and a couple of 9/8 tunes. Once again, we learned by ear, recorded Iain playing the tunes and received written copies of the music.
To bring the weekend to a conclusion, there was a short concert after lunch. Each of the tutors took it in turns to play some tunes for us and then they selected one of their classes to show us what they had been learning during the weekend. Annie’s and Judy’s singing class gave us a lovely version of ‘Ye Banks and Braes’ which had some nice harmonies. Finally, all of us played ‘The Mill, The Mill O’ and ‘Teribus.’
If you have ever wondered about attending a teaching weekend but weren’t sure what it involved, I hope that you are now better informed! The tuition was aimed at different ability levels and so for those less experienced players more emphasis was put on using the correct bellows technique. Interestingly, I didn’t hear any Lowland (Border) pipes being played at this event which was a change from previous years.
I can thoroughly recommend that you attend next year’s event! Bridge of Allan is easily accessible by car, bus and train and is not too far from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. You meet nice people, learn some great tunes and get to play in some lively music sessions. What more could you want!

Ian Mackay, Scone, Perth

A moment from the Sunday closing session:
L to R:  Yuko Blair-Smith, Anne Duncan, Caroline Barden