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THERE were nine pipers (or would-be pipers) at this year’s Lowland Piping Course, organised once again by the Edinburgh International Folk Festival, and tutored, as before, by Hamish Moore. Nearly double the number of students compared with last year, their expertise varied from those who had never fingered a set of pipes in their lives to experienced players of piobaireachd. Their ages varied from that of student to pensioner.

The format followed the same “laid back" pattern as last year. Each morning we all met to work out the programme for the day, and before close of  play there was a second meeting to look at progress and hear from Hamish some of the ideas that had been generated and developed. The pipers  worked in groups of two and three, depending on approximate experience “and ability. This meant that Hamish could more easily manage the larger numbers, and the pipers benefitted from hearing what others in the group made of a piece of music, or used as a suitable technique. This "cross-pollination"” was carried a stage further when a piece of music was borrowed from the fiddle class (run by Shetlander Trevor Hunter). The members of the course were invited to play this piece, ‘Da Merry Boys of Greenland’, on the pipes, each adding his or her own interpretation of the tune. One of the results that developed is set out here.

On the last day of the course there was a mixup (and almost a punch-up) over the areas allocated for practice, which had been double-booked, and the piping course lost ground to the pipe-maker's exhibition. In fact one criticism that must be voiced about the whole course was the lack of any  formal practicing area. There were occasions when pipers would emerge from the morning meeting to find other instrumentalists using their usual  piping spots - for others in the building were also suffering from this lack of practicing space. Before anyone registers for the course next year (I am sure there will be one), I would recommend that they find out first if suitable facilities will indeed be provided. The fee of £65 is a fair price, but exorbitant if adequate space is not made available. Another recommendation would be for pipers to take with them a portable taperecorder and a music stand (as well, of course, as the necessary music and pipes).
 A good week, with some grand tunes and a lot of progress. At the end of the five days the two who had never played before were ably demonstrating ‘Mary Scott'; and, as was the case last year, everyone went away with a better understanding of the sounds that could be obtained and the techniques to develop and improve.

Quote of the week came, inevitably, from Hamish. When it was pointed out that we were not playing the tune as it appeared on the sheet of music, he replied, "Pay no attention to that - the man who wrote it didn't know what he was doing.