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Pipe Band College - Looking Back on the 2019 Summer School

I thought I would sit down and reflect on our most recent Summer School.

I have been part of this event since the early Nineteen Nineties, it is a long time since I sat my instructor’s certificate and afterwards was invited to instruct at the summer school in that year. In these times the event was held in the Headquarters in Washington Street, it was quite a small event but attracted players from local national and international destinations.

What I recall and still apply was that our mission was to being together all of these people who had never met and who operated at different levels in their Piping and Drumming lives and show them how they might join together through the medium of Music. The man who was my mentor in these days (no names are given to protect the innocent) spoke at the closing of my first Summer school as an instructor and said “The Summer School is about three `F’s, Friends, Fun and Finding out”. As the Principal of the Summer School it has been my mission ever since to make sure that for those who come along they can tap into these three `F’s.

How to make the 'F's happen.

I don’t have to do much about the first two, they will happen on the journey towards the third one. The “Finding out” `F’ is the goal of the Summer School. Everybody who comes along is asked to tell us, the teaching staff, what they already know, what can they play and what they want to do. The teaching staff along with our Education Officer try to sort out the students into groups where people will feel safe and comfortable knowing that everyone around them is able to do what they can do. We do this by looking at what level you are playing at in competition and what point you have reached in your learning about how music works.

Who is on the teaching Staff?

We are very lucky to have a most experienced team of instructors.

  • The Man who sets the whole thing up is the Associations Education Officer, Pat Whelan. Pat has spent his life working to develop people through education. Pat manages the administration of the school and is the first contact for everyone when they enrol.
  • There is me, I’m John Nevans, I have been fortunate in looking after the Summer School for many years and have seen it see many people on the road to new skills and playing abilities.
  • As our Drumming Lead we have Allan Craig. Allan is a very experienced leading Drummer and is now a full-time drumming instructor in the North of Scotland.
  • Looking after our Tenor and Bass students is Fiona Bowes, Fiona plays with Johnstone Pipe Band in grade one and has a wealth of talent to share with her class.
  • Our main piping instructors are the father and son team of Keith Bowes senior and junior.

It’s our job to guide each group towards building a solid base of performance from what they already know to what they will learn in the coming week. This begins with sitting down and looking at what we can do together right away, when we know what that is then we can start to look at what we need to do to “Level up” as the gamers say. If you can play marches how do we get you moving towards strathspeys and reels? If you can play marches, strathspeys and reels then is it time to develop into slow airs, waltzes, hornpipes or jigs? If you can do all of this, then it’s high time you were writing your own!

This is that journey of the third `F’, the road to “Finding out”. The adventure, the friends and the fun all begin with our first steps towards developing our knowledge.

Along this road there are many different paths. Every student needs to know how to properly read and write music so we make sure that you know the big parts of musical theory. How to read what the music tells you, how to write it in a way that other people can play the same thing that you do from what you write into your music.

The Summer school staff take a lot of time to work on the instrument you play. Each instructor will show you how the instrument should work and look at yours to make sure that your drum or bagpipe will give you the best result when you perform. Every day the whole school gets together to perform and practise the basics things we need to do to make this instrument come alive. After each session the instruments are just that wee bit better than before so by the end of the week the instrument performs better and the student knows more about how to make that happen. Now it’s all very well saying that we are on a journey during this week but how do we know where we are going? Well most explorers use a map or look for sign posts, the Summer School looks out into the world of Pipe Bands and brings in those sign posts. In two thousand and nineteen those signposts were Pipe Major Ken Eller, Pipe Major Robert Wallace and visits to the Band Practises held by The Glasgow Skye association Pipe Band and Police Scotland Glasgow Pipe Band.

Why have this as a part of the School you might ask? We ask all of our students to look beyond where they are right at the moment of the school, we ask them to look to where they want to be in the future and to help them see that we show them people who have gone where they want to go.

Pipe Major Eller (pictured right) has a lifelong experience of piping and Pipe Bands. Ken was able to talk to the students about the importance of understanding the need for personal practise to improve performance and what that contributed to the overall playing in the Pipe Band.

Pipe Major Wallace specialises in “The Big Music”. Rab was able to demonstrate to the students and have them take part in a lesson in performing the ground of the pibroch, “The company’s Lament” opening up another avenue of performance to the students and offering them a new direction for their music.

Going out to the Pipe Band visits is an opportunity to see all the theory and practise the instructors have spoken about in the week being put into action. Here is the actual creation of a full, performing, Pipe Band unit where individuals who have followed the learning offered by our Association and now perform at the highest levels possible.

Meanwhile, back down on the ground, the week is pushing on and before you know it we are heading for the big event of the week when the Summer School will come together to show all the experiences it has offered to its students and does this through a concert performance on Friday afternoon.

Lots of blood sweat and tears have been poured out through the week as people have toiled to take on new knowledge and experiences. This will be their moment of glory when they demonstrate to, a fairly friendly, audience all of these new skills. There are moments of high tension, there is a buzz of excitement and a few jangling nerves but in all of these years I have never known it to fail. It is a moment of achievement for everyone, I have perhaps been part of a lot of summer schools but everyone gives me that same leap of enjoyment when I see our pipers and drummers march onto the stage for our performance.

I’m disappointed that I haven’t had the chance to produce this years Summer School due to the world situation we are all affected by but I know this in Twenty Twenty One, just like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I’ll be back”

John Nevans

Pipe Band College

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