David Brown: Reinvigorating My Piping

I started playing 30 years ago with the Kalamalka Highlanders in Vernon, BC, thanks to a partnership between the band and my local Air Cadet squadron. I was then able to spend my teenage years learning and playing pipes via the cadet music program.

Initially my motivation as a piper was simply to advance through the cadet music program and to be able to perform with the pipe band. It did not take me long to realize that there were very interesting opportunities available for competent pipers: travel, invites to unique events, summer piping camps, and even leadership development.

My start as a piper was an act of adolescence independence; my mom was generally opposed to the idea... so that is why I started! (BTW - it did not take long for my mom to come around and she has been a big supporter ever since.)

With recollection, I can now realize that there was too much pressure put on me as a developing piper to move from the beginner stage to that of an intermediate or advanced player. As a cocky teenager I was happy to concede to these expectations as slow airs and marches were lame when compared to jigs, reels, and hornpipes. Unfortunately this resulted in some foundational skills or concepts not being properly mastered: poor rhythm, sloppy embellishments, and inconsistent blowing mechanics.

As a military member I move around more than the average person and as a result I have played in many pipe bands across North America. In every one of these bands, I have encountered far too many pipers and drummers that have allowed their pursuit of music to be hindered by irrational attitudes: self-doubt, ageism, lack of rhythm, no musical ear, etc. Personally, I allowed a "lack of time" argument to derail my progress for far too many years.

I initially stumbled across the Dojo in late 2018 as the result of a general piping-related internet search. I gained access to some of the Dojo's free offerings early on and then continued to check-in on the website from time to time. It took me more than two years to take the plunge to become a Dojo member. In early 2021, thanks partially to the pandemic lockdown, I decided to join the Dojo to help me reinvigorate my piping.

The Dojo community is welcoming and very supportive. Even when providing constructive feedback after a poor performance, Dojo members are polite and encouraging (which is also well modelled by all Dojo staff). I only wish that I was not working full-time so that I could participate synchronously with the classes and other students.

After more than two decades away, I have returned to solo competition with the support of the Dojo. As a middle-aged man, it is a great feeling to make the prize-list amongst a bunch of teenagers. More importantly than prize-lists, I have drastically improved my understanding of how the bagpipe and it's music works in a straightforward and logical way. I now know where to prioritize my efforts during practice (or maintenance, or performance) and I also have a much better understanding why each activity is more or less important than another.

The four steps of bagpipe maintenance has had a profound impact on how much I play my bagpipe. Having a simple understandable and repeatable system to ensure my bagpipe is functioning at maximum efficiency has allowed me to increase my GHB practice time immensely. I no longer ineffectively fiddle around with bagpipe maintenance and my practice sessions have become longer and far more frequent.

While I felt that I was fairly good at tuning my pipes before, the Dojo approach to bagpipe tuning has made me a far more confident and consistent tuner.

The Dojo tune building method, as well as the Tune of the Week program, has allowed me to learn tunes more accurately and far faster than I was ever able to accomplish previously. Not only can I learn tunes better, my ability to memorize tunes has improved using the same method. In particular, I am continuing to improve my finger technique for the Low G embellishments.

Overall the Dojo has helped me add fun and enjoyment back into my piping. I now look forward to my daily practice sessions as I see the progress I am making over the weeks.

David Brown, Ontario, Canada

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