Ed Gouge: Honor of the Department

I hoped to fill a void, wanting to represent fire departments in our county for memorial services, where there were no other firemen to play. The events of 9/11/01 were important reminders of how the lives of some firemen could be cut too short, too soon, and I wasn't aware of any bagpipers in our ranks. That was a reminder of the importance to practice hard, so that I would someday be ready to meet the need.

I simply wished to (someday) wear the uniform and play with the band, marching down the streets as a member of the only pipe and drum band I was aware of in our area. Often times, it seemed that my progress was so slow that I would NEVER get to play those pipes or march with the group. The group was mostly law enforcement officers, and a few firefighter- drummers.....but I hoped to become the first firefighter-piper in our group, who could play memorial ceremonies for our fallen brothers, should the need arise.

Confident that I had finally made enough progress on a practice chanter, I made the financial commitment to buy a new set of engraved, McCallum AB4 pipes. The shop owner set them up and they sounded GREAT as he played them in front of me. By the time I got home, I was worried that I just wasted a huge amount of money, since I couldn't even get them to play scales! Reed stiffness, coordination of blowing and bag-pressure, drone tuning, overblowing the chanter.....I had a whole variety of brand-new problems to address, all while trying to learn tunes and play musically on the pipes. Other than weekly, band practices, I didn't make the personal dedication to daily practice, as I should have. As expected, my progress was slow and unsatisfactory. Rather than learn tunes the right way, I omitted the gracenotes and embellishments on the sheet music, replacing them with short-cuts and bad habits.....which ultimately made me a mediocre musician, at best.

After 10 years of playing, job changes caused me to move away from the town and band I had known since picking up my first practice chanter. The new town does not have any organized pipe bands or instruction centers in the area, and my practice habits fell to zero.....for the past 3 or 4 years. I nearly walked away from 10 years of effort spent learning to play the bagpipes, simply because I could not identify a suitable way to practice or learn.

A friend from the old band once mentioned that he had found the Piper's Dojo and thought it may be a valuable resource for new pipers. While I checked it out online, I was hesitant to sign-up or spend money on something which I doubted that I would commit to and stick with. Years later, in my new living situation, I revisited the Dojo and looked into the details, concluding that it may actually be of great value to me, so I signed up for the free, 30-day trial.

While practicing with the band, I preferred to continue with the in-person, lessons and directions given by our pipe major and sergeant. When that opportunity went away, online learning was the only option remaining, so I either had to quit the pipes, or commit to the Dojo so that my learning may continue. Thankfully, I signed up for the free trial and was easily convinced, in just 4 weeks of applying myself, that the improvements I saw were worth the cost, so I signed-up for premium membership. I should have done so, years ago!

Excellent content.....more learning available than I have time to manage! Structured courses, live-classes, recorded lessons, peer communities, and so much more, are available for novice beginners, as well as the most experienced and professional players! As a shift-worker, I particularly enjoy the online platform so that I can access learning opportunities at any time.

Being able to hear from professional, experienced instructors, and then replay those instructions as many times as I need has been helpful to focus on micro- and macro-level challenges in my playing, instrument tuning and care, or performance habits.

I have struggled to play leaking pipes for the duration of a performance, many times wondering if I would run out of "chops" before finishing the set. Learning how to break in reeds, tune drones, and seal the bag to prevent unnecessary air-leaks has made a huge improvement in my duration and ease of playing the pipes.

While still working my way through this information and learning the Dojo methods for a variety of aspects to my tuning, maintenance, and playing.....I have every confidence that the information learned, thus far, has made my playing easier by noticeable margins.

Playing the simplified tunes, learning new melodies, and then adding embellishments as I progress is a sure-fire way to build solid foundations for my playing. Piper's Dojo tune-development methods are very helpful for learning small, individual parts and mastering them in phrases, before putting them together as a quality, end-product.

I have learned to become a critical listener of my own playing and try to correct issues identified, as I work toward that "perfect" performance which we all strive to deliver. Critical listening has focused my concentration on finger movements, so that I can avoid cross-over noises or sloppy playing. I have also noticed the tendency of "over-gripping" my chanter, which causes stress in my arms and fingers...…the awareness of which has allowed me to watch for that tendency and to try and play with more relaxation in my arms and fingers.

We all enjoy positive feed-back on our efforts. At the Piper's Dojo, I often receive kind words from peers, or fair and kind feedback on my assignments submitted. This positive support makes me happy and reinforces the idea that my efforts toward improvement are being noticed, which motivates me to try harder and more often for the next lesson. I greatly enjoy my experience with the Dojo Community, and hope that the Dojo also enjoys their experience with me!

Ed G from West Grove, Pennsylvania

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