Bagpipe initiative is aiming to keep school pupils in tune

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An innovative schools programme that aims to give school pupils across East Dunbartonshire the chance to play the bagpipes has been given a boost.

The East Dunbartonshire Schools’ Piping Project is run by The College of Piping – a Glasgow based charity – that is working with schools in Kirkintilloch, Bearsden and Bishopbriggs, to encourage a new generation of pipers to take up this instrument.

Fraser MacInnes, general manager of the college, is the leading light behind the initiative which now has around 170 pupils from schools including Kirkintilloch’s Holy Trinity and Hillhead primary schools; Balmuildy primary school in Bishopbriggs, and Baljaffray, Castlehill and Mosshead primary schools in Bearsden as well as Bearsden Academy.

Fraser who has lived in Bearsden for the past 26 years and has had an association with the college since being a pupil there back in 1979, said he felt there was a need to engage with the younger generation so as to provide additional opportunities for children in our primary and secondary schools to learn our national instrument.

He added: “I took over as general manager at the College of Piping in 2015 after spending 40 years in the business sector. The college was looking for someone with a commercial background, so I felt I could combine this with my love of piping.

‘‘I felt it would be good to involve the schools more to bring on the next generation of pipers, so I spoke to the head of instrumental services at East Dunbartonshire Council’s education department and we started off teaching in four primary schools.”

This was in January 2016 and since then the popularity has grown steadily with particular interest among the ten to 12 year age group in primary six and sevens.

An after school pipe band has also been set up at Bearsden Academy which is now an integral part of the school’s music group ensemble. Following months of practice the pipe band is now good enough to perform at school concerts and other venues away from the school.

Fraser said: “All of us at the Piping College are really happy this has taken off in such a big way. I knew there was a demand for piping lessons but didn’t know the demand was so high.’’

In Kirkintilloch the initiative has now been exteneded to cover St Flannan’s and St Agatha’s primary schools under the Youth Music Initiative which allows organisations to provide musical tuition 
in educational establishments.

The fact that there was no established bagpipe tuition in schools in the area came as a surprise to Fraser who said it was important if Scotland was to continue to produce some of the best pipers that they are identified at an early age.

He said: “In East Dunbartonshire there was no provision to learn the chanter which is the forerunner to learning the bagpipes.

‘‘The ultimate aim for us is to have school pipe bands that can take part in competitions in their own right.”

One school that has welcomed the initiative is Mosshead Primary School in Bearsden. They now have a chanter group which head teacher Aileen Welsh is most impressed with.

In a letter to Fraser she said: “We are absolutely delighted that our school was considered for this additional musical opportunity.

‘‘Our ten pupils have displayed a keen interest in the lessons and have flourished under the teaching and guidance of Andrew Wallace.

On behalf of Mosshead Primary, I would like to say a very big thank you to the College of Piping for enabling our pupils to further diversity their musical talents.”

Recently Fraser and a couple of other pipers completed a sponsored walk of the West Highland Way and managed to raise around £5000.

Fraser said the money will be used to buy instruments, mainly bagpipes, which will be loaned to pupils progressing from practice chanter to bagpipes.

Fraser said: “When youngsters take up playing the chanter and want to go on to play the bagpipes it can be quite expensive making that initial step to buying the instruments. We are keen to have bagpipes that youngsters can borrow and practice on, so their parents don’t have to make the commitment so early on.”

And he added: ”At the beginning of the next school term we are also planning to run workshops at the Piping College for various school projects. This money will help us to fund some of this.”

The college also receives donations and grants. If you would like to help, contact the charity on www.collegeofpiping.org.uk.