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Ian Cabburn is a full time teacher (not music) and has been playing the hammer dulci- mer in a ceilidh band for the past 25 years and piping for the last 10.


With the smallpipes he teaches a range of simple techniques and ornamentations and there- after encourages the student to explore the instrument’s capa- bilities for themselves.




Late in 1999 I set in motion a project which I had been thinking about for several years. I was talking to the director of the Local Education Authority funded music school in Daven- try and the subject of folk instruments came up. I mentioned my ideas about commissioning a number of sets of simple pipes for use with children and within days we were putting to- gether a lottery fund bid.

The Bagpipe Society offered the sum of £3000 towards the project and we made a bid for an equal amount. On the strength of encouraging noises from the grant committee, I set about drawing up a specification and talking to a number of makers.

The choice of a design was not easy and every piper I spoke to had a different but equally valid opinion, but a few basics were quickly established: the pipes should be bellows blown for hygiene reasons, they should be smallpipes pitched in D to allow for small fingers and that there should be at least one drone. To allow for future upgrading, I specified a drone stock capable of holding up to three drones, but with two of the holes plugged. My next problem concerned the scale and for no reason other than personal opinion based on the tunes I like to play, I settled on the standard “Flattened 7th scale”. After a lot of discussion an initial order for 8 sets of single drone “Scottish” smallpipes in D was placed with Rich- ard and Anita Evans, who came up with an excellent robust design at a very good price and, what was the real clincher, they could deliver all the sets within 12 months!

Time passed. Requests for clarification came from the lottery. We were optimistic. More clarification was sought. We were getting confident. We were then turned down because we had not “met the criteria” (unspecified). I suspect that if we had been able to push the fiction of piping as a traditional activity in Northamptonshire, we may have had more


if we had been able to push piping as a traditional activity we may have had more success


Fortunately, the Bagpipe Society’s money covered the cost of the 8 sets of pipes, which were delivered at the Bagpipe Society’s Blow- out in June 2000. We were all highly im- pressed with the pipes which have a strong, sweet tone and are amazingly forgiving in the


hands of beginners, being relatively pressure insensitive and very economical in the amount of air needed.

I took the sets in to the music school the following Saturday and in the course of the morn- ing, they must have been used by 20 or more students ranging from 7 up to 16 year olds, with varying degrees of success, which were not always age related. The key factor seems to be arm length! Interest continued to grow. One highly talented 14 year old was playing all manner of pieces within hours of first meeting bagpipes and he put on a creditable performance at the school's summer concert a mere three weeks later.


Beginner’s recorder books are a good source of simple tunes and many can be played as rounds......


I have been running weekly classes, two every Saturday morning, for a year now and after an initial rapid turnover of students, we have now settled down to a regular group of enthusiasts,


several of whom take the pipes home. Some even practice! One boy takes the pipes home, having received written consent from his parents, but every time he gets them out, so he says, he is told to be quiet!

Children are already signing up for next term.

As far as repertoire is concerned, I started off with the intention of using traditional pipe tunes, but I soon found that you can cover a lot of technique with “Twinkle Twinkle”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, and other such timeless hits. Beginners’ recorder books are a good source of simple tunes and many can be played as rounds, which has been great fun.

My star pupil, Melody, started a year ago at the tender age of 7 and despite being short of arm, she persevered and devised her own way of holding the bag. We are currently enjoying working through Julian Goodacre’s tune books. To my mind the most gratifying outcome of the first year is how positively the bagpipes are received by children and adults alike. I have not heard a single “pipist” joke and scarcely a reference to Scotsmen in kilts since I started.

I have however had requests from the children to be taught Scotland the Brave.....

Ian further describes some of the organisation and admin, which may be useful to others trying to set up a similar project.

The pipes remain the property of the Bagpipe Society and are under my “custody” for as long as they are being used locally. In the event of the project finishing for any reason, the pipes become available for use by anyone else who wishes to set up something similar else- where. The music school pays for my tuition at local peripatetic music teacher rates and I am on the county payrole as such. It also pays the insurance premium (amazingly compre- hensive cover for approx £10 per instrument), book resources and undertakes to pay for any repair arising from damage by students, which is highly unlikely given the nature and ethos of the music school. I do not let the pipes go home with the children unless I am completely satisfied that they will be treated carefully and I have received a letter from the parents guaranteeing full responsibility for their safe keeping. The pipes are available for use by other members of the Society, with or without me in attendance, providing the dates they are required do not conflict with term dates.

There is no expectation that the money used to set up the project will be recouped in any way in the future other than by selling the pipes in the unlikely event of their becoming redundant.

My knowledge of Lottery applications is zero. The music school's application was dealt with by their treasurer. I just provided information about the pipes and what I intended to do with them. You will have to look elsewhere for this expertise - try to find someone who was successful!