Barbara Willard: One of Life's Best Journeys

I started with a street band after answering an ad in paper to "come join us to learn to play the bagpipes"! They said all I needed was a practice chanter and Sandy Jones' introductory book. Luckily for me, I met a 70-year-old mentor that took me under his wing.

I had always wanted to play in a band situation, never dreaming it would develop into such a passion. I thought that if I could play well enough to satisfy my own pleasure, then I would be successful.

On first picking up the pipes, I felt like I was in a struggle with an octopus. It just flopped everywhere! It took me years (as a matter of fact it took until I joined Dojo) to learn that there really is a reed made that you can blow comfortably.

Tuning was a mystery; someone always did it for me. I actually was afraid to "mess" with this strange instrument and thus knew nothing about maintenance! I just wanted to play and left the rest up to band members to fix for me.

As a result I spent much more money than necessary on what anybody recommended to make it all easier for me....However, as I magically progressed, I developed a multitude of problems of which I did not recognize. Sadly it was a case of the blind leading the blind when there were no "professional" teachers to get me on track. Two huge main issues... crossing noises and coordinating blowing and squeezing. It is a wonder I did not topple over from hyperventilating. I could not even recognize a crossing noise!

Certainly age was against me but determination over came that limitation to an extent.

I was sure I was "getting this" before I joined Dojo. I played in parades, graduations, weddings, and even a few competitions but always surrounded by more accomplished players, and I thought... ok this is where I want to be!

But then my comfortable world fell apart when the instructors at the Dojo, very delicately guided me into their method of teaching. It was an eye opener... I have to say that if it had not been for the pandemic I would not have immersed myself so solidly into this enlightening adventure.

I think that before Dojo I was in a slump. I had no idea of how to progress, and I was at a stand still and thought "this was it I guess this is as far as I go". A few clinics here and there were of some help but not a constant support or progression. One or two competitions were a disaster and very deflating.

I have been with Dojo for a couple of years now, and attend several live classes a day. My biggest challenge was learning to navigate through all that is offered, because I am not computer-wise at all. At first I missed a lot by not participating in many classes. I had not a clue how to figure out how to submit things, but that too has been for the most part resolved because of the efforts and patience of the staff and some really great friendships I have made.

It is a fabulous community to be involved in! Where else will you meet people with a like interest from all over the world? You would have to travel great distances to get such fabulous and knowledgeable instruction, usually, but I don't have to go any further than sitting comfortable in my own house at my computer to indulge in anything concerning bagpiping! The online tuning clinic also illustrated that Zoom classes do work well for any topic.

It would take more time and pages than you have here for me to fully explain how I have benefitted from this experience. My whole attitude has changed. I feel there is no limit to how much I can absorb and that my goals will have far exceed my expectations of being accomplished.

My pipes are no longer this strange thing sitting on my shoulder with this ridiculous floppy bag under my arm. I am not afraid of experimenting with reeds, drones, and blow sticks until I feel comfortable. I understand so much more clearly the mechanics of the pipes, the challenge to having nicely sounding pipes (tuning will always be a struggle but I understand the the basics and the steps to follow to obtain a pleasant enjoyable sound).

I now can play for a long time without being exhausted, which in turn helps me to correct more issues on the pipes. The suggestion of using the manometer is slowly helping me develop a much steadier blowing technique, but I still have a long way to go. I actually can now can recognize crossing noises and better still, I realize how awful they sound, and I have a visual image of why they occur and how to correct them (always a work in progress)!

My confidence is slowly improving, and I'm happier and very pleased with my progress. I sometimes think I am too obsessed with the program, but that is by choice – it has opened a whole new perspective on what you can accomplish in life if you set your mind to it.

Dojo has really expanded my world and introduced me to some very talented people, who I'm lucky now call my friends. Now what more can you ask for from something that all began as a whim?

Life is a journey and this has been one of the best.

Barbara Willard, Lexington, Kentucky, USA

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