Andrea Dowling: Piping's So Much More Fun!

My first exposure to piping was at Girl Guide and Boy Scout parades in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The annual Scouting parade consisted of youth groups interspersed with pipe bands. I loved it!

It was always in the back of my mind to learn how to pipe, and then the College of Piping opened in Summerside, PEI. I was off work on a stress leave, was learning how to put myself first for a change, and I realized I really wanted to learn how to play the bagpipes. I signed up for classes, and never looked back!

I am an adult learner – I didn't start to learn how to play pipes until I was in my 40s. I wanted to be a part of a band. There is something about music, and playing music as a group, that really binds people together. Performing for others, providing enjoyment, is so fulfilling. I found learning to pipe was not a good experience, as at the time things were very youth and male oriented. I am happy to be relearning the basics of piping through Dojo, and fixing a lot of bad habits.

I play a few other instruments, and bagpipes just seemed to be the ultimate challenge. Controlling all those components: the reeds, the bag, the air flow, memorizing music, playing as part of a group, and marching together. Major challenge!

My pipes were always too hard. Pipe majors provided reeds that were as thick as 2"x4"s. I would struggle to tune my drones, and not have enough energy to play anything afterwards. The band always played faster than I could, and the tunes didn't even seem to sound the same as when I played them myself. I figured the piping lessons should have been combined with weight training – I just didn't have the strength or stamina to be able to play.

But I was too stubborn to quit.

I can remember getting an email, or a notice on Facebook regarding a free Dojo lesson. I decided free was good (ever a true Scot!), and signed up. What I learned was good, basic, and helpful, and I was hooked! It didn't take me long to sign up, because it seemed the lessons were founded on premises that I agreed with (I have a classical piano background, and understood about fundamentals, basic techniques, rhythm, etc.). The people I have been exposed to have been helpful, constructively critical and very pleasant to deal with. Everything is very well explained; concepts are clear.

I have found it to be an unlimited source of professional help with anything related to piping.

I have gone from dreading playing with the band, being extremely nervous to play on my own, to really finally enjoying playing my pipes and performing on my own. I am much more confident tuning my pipes now. Following the Dojo method of learning tunes is easy since it is so logical and basic. I am more critical of my technique, and take the time to use the Dojo method to improve. I use recordings now to help define areas of improvement, where I didn't ever record myself before.

I am now the pipe major for our Grade 4 band; the band's 50th anniversary is this year and we are deciding what we need to do in order to celebrate. It's great to get back into the swing of things.

I am feeling more like a 'real' piper now, able to play the instrument with more confidence and skill.

It is so much more fun!

Andrea Dowling, Hunter River, Canada

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