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Mike Paterson, who collates and writes for “Notes” (journal of the Piping Centre in Glasgow) outlines the development of the Piping Centre and the facilities it has to offer pipers and pipe makers of all persuasions.

Plans for The Piping Centre in Glasgow were first unveiled by the Piping Trust in 1989, and a five-year campaign was launched to raise the 4.5 million needed to refurbish the derelict Grade II listed former Free Church of Scotland buildings on McPhater Street in Cowcaddens.

A startling transformation produced a modern auditorium, sound-proofed practice rooms, offices, museum space, meeting rooms, kitchens and a brasserie, eight hotel rooms and a facility that was dedicated to the priorities of piping.

The Centre has now been open for nearly three years - not long in the relatively                                conservative world of piping. It provides regular tuition and master classes for a wide range of novice and experienced pipers, holds recitals and contests, and has released a series of recordings. Lessons are available on Highland pipes, Uillean pipes, Scottish smallpipes, accordion, pipe band drumming and fiddle. It is also building up a library and museum. As well as being an interesting attraction in its own right, the National Museums of

Scotland display of pipes in the Piping Centre museum serves as a specialist resource for musicological researches and pipemakers from Britain and abroad. Hugh Cheape,  curator of Scottish collections and assistant keeper for the National Museums of    Scotland, said “The collection shows that piping was very much a part of a nation’s living musical tradition, very much a part of music and song. It was much more in the cultural roots of our society (than is commonly thought).

“The pipes in the collection are there to be measured and reproduced, and that’s happened many times. Examples of our collection are now reproduced in North America, Australia and England as well as in Scotland.”

Hugh Cheape

Individuals and organisations have made valuable contributions to the Piping     Centre’s growing collections of historical and reference materials. The Royal                Scottish Pipers Society, for example, gave an extensive collection of early photo-

graphs of great pipers to the Piping Centre. These are being thoroughly catalogued, copied, framed and displayed around the Centre.

The intention is to develop a national sound archive, the initial work towards which has been supported by a 5,000 donation from William Grant and Sons. Further support is being sought to create a resource of significant value, available to all interested pipers.

Piping Centre staff are developing resources for learners and helping to raise the profile of piping in Scotland and abroad through various outreach initiatives.

The development of a national “Piping for Schools” project has been made possible by a 180,000 three-year New Directions grant from the Scottish Arts Council. New Directions applies lottery funds to the development of talents, skills and creative abilities. Leading New Zealand piper and judge Greg Wilson has been appointed co-ordinator for the project that, over the next three years, will see some 600 Scottish school students given the opportunity to spend time at the Centre, topping up the skills they are learning from their piping tutors. Offerings include such things as reed-making, a visit to a bagpipe manufacturer, visits to Grade 1 bands and the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle.

A key element will be a chance for students to take the Institute of Piping Certificate examination appropriate to their level at the end of the course. “It’s a very exciting opportunity,” said Greg Wilson. “The project has all the potential to be a real boost to young pipers at a formative time in their development.”

The Piping Centre has also established a relationship with the neighbouring Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama which now allows degree candidates to major on the pipes and other traditional instruments.

Tutors are Allan MacDonald and the Piping Centre’s senior instructor Pipe Major Angus MacDonald. The Piping Centre’s director of piping, Roddy MacLeod, is RSAMD’s external specialist examiner for piping. RSAMD opens its library to students at the Piping Centre, and the Piping Centre opens its museum to RSAMD students. The Scottish Music  programme also regularly uses the Centre’s auditorium for performances.

The Centre is also stepping up its communications. Its quarterly publication “Notes”, is gradually developing from a newsletter into a modest magazine, and an events programme is bringing people into the Centre. It has a foot in the door of the tourism and conference markets and operates a distinctively Scottish brasserie, mini-hotel and shop. The Piping Centre now has 27 full time and 7-8 part time employees, all of whom are committed to the furtherance of piping. 

“We’re here to encourage interest in piping among people of all walks of life and all abilities” said the Centre’s founding director of administration, John Drysdale. “We have no axes to grind. We recognise that the broader the base, the higher the mountain. Out of any group, some will want to take things further. We will help people whatever their preferences because that is how the tradition will survive and thrive,” he said. “We have a serious problem with piping in that the pipes are not widely seen as an instrument of performance. But piping does have a unique appeal and we see opportunities to encourage an audience for performances.

“Piping should attract more than a very narrow minority - we’re talking about a national musical instrument with international appeal. I’m not suggesting that efforts of the past have been to naught, but there must be ways of reminding people that this is a very                        important part of their heritage.

“The interest is always rewarding - it’s definitely a growth area. Overall, I feel we’ve created a major international and national facility we can be proud of in Scotland. The formula is a sensible mix and an enormous debt of gratitude is owed to those who had the vision, motivation, commitment and confidence to see this as a step that had to be taken, and backed the project. It is going to be many years before the full value of that is wholly realised.”