Daniel Blackburn: Blaze the Path

Throughout a 24 year military career I always loved the pipes. Not to be morbid, but I have heard pipes played at way too many funerals, and every time I heard them I told myself, "I want to do that". Now that I have the time to do it, I decided that I wanted to learn.

Initially it was a goal just for me. But now I have become part of a pipe and drum band, and carry the National Colors in parades. My goal is to be able to play all kinds of music however, to be able to play Amazing Grace for my relatives that have passed on, at their graveside. The most recent was my mother this past August. She would be happy that I have learned to play the bagpipes.

It is always something that I wanted to do but truly didn't have time. Being active duty military, your time isn't always your own.

Also, a large part of my heritage is from Aberdeenshire, so to honor my family roots is another reason I want to make this happen. When my wife and I went to Scotland, I heard pipers and told her then I was going to learn and her initial reaction was, "Where are you going to play?" She was worried she would have to listen while I was learning...

In the beginning I'd get limiting beliefs like being too old, or thinking I'm never going to get this, or not having the talent. I have been on the chanter now for almost a year and have just started playing around with actual pipes so there are struggles I haven't even found out about as of yet, but I am sure that I will. Learning how to get grace notes correct and make sure crossing noises are non-existent have been my struggles so far. I have started to learn tunes and that is a struggle as well – memorizing them – and I am sure that will always be somewhat of a struggle.

Bagpipes are my first instrument, but I sure did pick one that will test me. But I learned in the Army that if I keep at it and stick it out that I will do it, it won't be over night but it will happen. That's not to say that I haven't wanted to break my chanter more than once... just saying!

I haven't considered quitting but I did slow down back in August when my mother passed away – it was pretty consuming. After a while I got back into practicing, because I'm determined I will play for my mom at her graveside with my father, aunt, and uncle right next to them. That will be my Sistine Chapel – I just hope that I make it through Amazing Grace when I get there.

I started looking into bagpipe lessons and the manager of the local pipes and drums band said I should choose Dojo. It was a great decision. After joining Dojo and learning one piece at a time, I feel as though I can do this. The instructors I have met so far (and their instruction) have been top notch, the people are friendly, and if you have questions there is always someone to ask. I am a firm believer in a saying I learned in the Army, "Blaze the path for others to follow, never surrender," then the other one is, "Lead, Follow, or GET OUT OF THE WAY!"

There are still things I can achieve even after retiring from the Army. It is hard leaving something you have known for over half your adult life (the Army) then wondering where do I go from here. I feel as though piping will take me places that I didn't know existed until I started this journey and I can thank piping and the Dojo for that. I practice until my chanter is soaked and I can't play it. I feel it is all about not stopping and keep practicing like any other skill. I have got much better from my beginning until now. I have even considered competing at this point, but let's see how it goes.

I have had a blessed life honestly, I truly didn't know if I would live to see 50. But here I am at 51 and I can talk about music with my son who plays the piano and how frustrated we both get with our playing not being where we want it to be (good conversations). I am proud when I can play a tune and my wife tells me she recognizes it and can tell me what it is. I have never played an instrument and this is a journey I feel will be with me the rest of my life and maybe, just maybe, I can pass this on to grandkids. That would be pretty awesome.

I look forward to everything that is coming. When I get to play pipes in Scotland, maybe just on the royal mile where everyone plays, but that will be my culminating moment, I think as well as playing for my mom and dad.

Daniel Blackburn, Michigan, USA

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