Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teaching and Talent

There seems to be a lot of material being produced about how there is no such thing as talent. It seems in the modern era we do not like to suggest that some will naturally be better than others at a task for no apparent reason other than they are somehow gifted and naturally built for the task. Alternatively we have the Olympic coaches measuring kids up at school to see if they are naturally built to ride a bike or row a boat. Why is the bagpipe any different?

Over the years I have probably started hundreds of people off on the practice chanter. I have read a lot on this subject of talent and hours of practice, and like to think I am as open minded about these subjects as possible.

It does stand out to me though that there were a few people (only a very small number) who picked up the chanter and instantly looked comfortable and learned new lessons very quickly. There were others that were not so fortunate and seemed to struggle and take longer through the whole process (again a small number). A lot of this has to do with hand eye co-ordination and I am sure the same percentage would struggle to throw and catch a ball as well. The vast majority were similar in the rate at which they picked up new material and how much practice they did made a huge difference to their development.

The exceptional students (who could pick up lessons very quickly) also seemed to drop less in standard during the times when they were not playing. Some just seemed to have to always work hard at it.

Adult learners are another matter. I have taught many adult learners and the age at which you start makes a huge difference on the end result. As I get older, my hands (and brain) are not the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago. If I had to start again now, I would not progress at the same rate as I did when I was a child. However a good teacher and a realistic program can reap good results.

Now that I have spent many years teaching at seminars etc. I see a broad spectrum of students from a variety of teaching sources. I see many who are hampered by technical issues from being taught poorly or incorrectly.

Like any activity there are those with a natural ability for it. Some people just seem naturally co-ordinated. They will pick up new material very quickly, BUT they will not be the World champion pipers unless they put in the many hours of hard work needed and have good tuition. Likewise, those who struggle to pick up the lessons will have to work harder and probably will never be the next Worlds best piper (that is not to say that they will not become a good piper).

Realistically, there are those with a natural ability. There will also be those with less natural ability. Hard work and a good teacher will benefit both. The true champions are those with a natural ability who also put in the hard yards and have the quality guidance behind them of a good teacher.

There is information on teaching and lots of advice for pipers at

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Australian Pipe Band Association Summer School 2011

We have just seen the first week long Australian Pipe Band Association Summer School come and go! A lot of work was undertaken by the organizers and they should be commended for their efforts and the way it ran without hiccup apart from some post holiday issues with the University accommodation. Not a huge drama, but a small delay on the first day.

Piping instructors were: Jack Lee (Simon Fraser University Pipe Band), Brett Tidswell (APBA Piping Principal, Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, City of Adelaide Pipe Band), Ian Lyons (Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band, Clayton and Victoria Police Pipe Band) and Robert Crozier (Victoria Police Pipe Band). It was a great pleasure working with all of the instructors.

Drumming Instructors were: Reid Maxwell (SFU), Tyler Fry (Shotts), Dean Hall (Band Club), Nick MacLeod (Warrnambool), assited by Rob Bennet (Rats of Tobruk) and Greg Bassani (APBA Principal of Drumming).

Admin was undertaken by Greg and Christine Gordon.

A very professional group but also capable of tremendous humour!

During a session on bagpipe set up, one tutor commented that he sets his 'high A' 20 - 30 cents lower than the octave and later, when demonstrating one of the other tutors stated that it sounded more like a dollar! Any comment on tone invariably resulted in some truly impressive Ian MacLellan impersonations!

Overall there were 92 students, all of whom demonstrated a commitment and enthusiasm for learning. Piping was broken into 4 groups and personally I found that each one was a pleasure to teach. The range of students went from those who could only play a handful of tunes through to a reasonable Intermediate standard.

Each day had a full program of lessons starting at 8.30am and went through to an evening class finishing at 8.30 - 9.00 pm. Chanters could be heard in the accommodation block as students worked on material for the following day and the end of school performances.

It was great to see all states represented and also students who travelled from as far as Singapore to attend the event. Each state branch of the Association had given scholarships to outstanding candidates, and this all bodes well for a great future for the event.

I tremendously enjoyed the opportunity to assist in presenting a two night ensemble discussion along with Reid Maxwell and Tyler Fry. Some of us were not always on the 'same page' as to tenor drum tuning and numbers, but that is what makes these discussions so valuable.

The final Friday saw students present some pieces they had worked on as ensembles with the drummers. This seemed to go down very well and it was good to see that so many had learned a considerable amount of new music in the week. That night we moved on to the LaTrobe University theater and a recital was put on by the instructors. Brett Tidswell opened the show with Ian Lyons and Jack Lee also performing solo. Reid Maxwell and Tyler Fry also performed and later were joined by Alby Copeland, Robert Crozier and the other pipers for a full performance scraped together virtually the day before with no chance to rehearse or tune at all!

A number of prizes were awarded for tune composition which were donated by McCallum Bagpipes. The winning tune by Donna Stemberger was a very pleasant 3 part air. Second prize went to Matthew Gervasoni for a very nice Hornpipe.

Piping scholarships for next year were given to Fergus Barry-Corderoy and Alexandra Culver. All instructors thought these students showed talent and outstanding enthusiasm. A separate scholarship was awarded to Ong Wei Shi to attend the Canadian Summer School.

The awarded Brett Tidswell's CDs and The Complete Pipers Handbook to students that we considered were enthusiastic and deserved commendation.

Lyons Highland Supplies also donated Crozier Drone Reeds as prizes for students.

It is hoped that students will continue with the material taught at the school and it will provide some first class tuition and broaden their musical view point. This has the potential to greatly improve piping throughout Australia. I look forward to seeing everyone again next year. I am sure everyone not only had a rewarding learning experience but also made friendships that will last a lifetime.

Further learning material, reviews, photo albums, sound files and other entertaining material can be found at the School of Piping website. This is an online piping workshop that can be accessed anytime!