The Burn Weekend, October 2010
As a newcomer to smallpipes, I was apprehensive about joining this workshop, but was made to feel welcome by even the most accomplished players present. The first evening, reassured by finding two of my Scots Music Group beginners classmates present, and no doubt aided by whisky, I even dared to contribute a couple of my old school band 2/4s. This on the l.b.p.s. practice pipes I have been wrestling with for the last few months.
One of the most frightening, yet eventually liberating, experiences, was learning a tune by ear. This really opened my mind to one of the key differences between smallpipes and GHB band playing.
I was inspired by Robert’s playing and fascinated by Ian’s talk on session playing, although at my age that is probably purely academic interest. Another eye-opener was the importance of the key of a tune. With the GHB I just bashed through whatever was presented, without giving the key a second thought. Now I may have opened a can of worms!
The final great revelation was that much as I have benefited from the l.b.p.s. practice pipes, they are not a patch on the real thing. I can’t wait to take delivery of my own set (promised by Christmas, Ian!), though I realise that I am going to have to beef up the bellows work to keep three drones and a strong chanter going.
The Burn was a great location, grand in scale but not over posh. Very friendly welcome, good food, blazing fires and set in Glen Esk, (my father’s homeland) which is really bonny in autumn. The biggest lesson of the weekend was that smallpipes are fun! I’ll be signing up for next year.
4 Nov 2010
A song, a tune and a story….
I returned to playing pipes in August 2008 after a twenty plus year gap, only occasionally picking up the big pipes over the years. It was a chance visit to a pub in Portree that I first came across someone playing a set of mouth blown smallpipes. Returning from my Skye holiday I looked in to Smallpipes and came across Ian Kinnear and his fantastic sets of Scottish Smallpipes. Ian invited me to join his weekend course in October 2008 where he was joined by the fantastic Andrew Stephenson of Skipinnish. My fondest memory was how on the Friday evening after dinner every one retired to the common sitting area and Ian’s "regulars" at these events appeared with their Smallpipes case and a bottle of malt whiskey. The communal spirit was set.
This year I returned to join Ian and his guest tutor Robert Watt, one of the new generation of a piper’s piper, a fantastic piper. Ian works hard at mixing people at the right level of their ability so everyone can enjoy themselves. In my first visit to Ian’s weekend course in 2008, I joined the beginners using a set of Ian’s pipes that he was able to lend while mine were being made. I was able to get the feel of using the bellows and general guidance on what to expect.
This year I was a vet – well, at least I now had a small repertoire of tunes and was able to join the other players every so often during the open session evenings we had, which was a sheer joy. It was a great feeling carrying my case and bottle of malt in to the group as we sat in front of the open fire in the wonderful Burn sitting room at Edzell.
The tutor sessions with Robert were a pure delight. It is great to see and hear how a professional musician works their magic. Even at his level of playing, the basic exercises are still used and needed i.e. working through those doublings, triplets, etc. Robert had provided; prior to our joining; a small selection of tunes to work through. He would encourage us to learn by singing the tune itself and then playing it. This does make a big difference. The tune would follow with a story. There was that time Robert spent at 4am in the morning waiting for a bus with Gordon Duncan playing reels in the pouring rain near Duncan’s home, his first visit to the Uist games, the unusual technique of making a cane reed work (that story is not for print). And, then of course there was Robert’s call of “dram o’clock” when it was time to practice with a good measure by our sides.
I am pleased to say that I will now be one of Ian’s regulars and my summer will end each year with a visit to Ian’s weekend workshop. There is not a friendlier and more welcoming place to go and enjoy playing good music and meeting good people.
Many Thanks Ian.
I had bought a set of pipes from Ian a few years ago with a view to adding them to my highland pipe playing but being away at sea a lot they rarely left the box – when they did I struggled with the technique. This course was the perfect opportunity to sort that out, and it did. Ian’s patience and ability to explain, observe and adjust was exceptional and I am now a happy piper on both highland and small pipes. Still not sure if the small pipes will come to sea with me due to the salty environment but they definitely do not live in the box anymore at home or in the band room.” Campbell de Burgh.