Pam Brownlee: It's All Interwoven

I did not grow up around pipe bands. I live in Louisiana, and started playing bass drum when a small pipe band began to form out of my husband and his students.

I learned a little about the proper way to play when I went to Winter Taylor’s January workshop in Atlanta, taking a class one year with Kathryn Tawse, and then another year with Duncan Gibson.

I was frustrated, however, with not having proper music, or even regular instruction, and didn’t really understand how to get it.

Years later, a piping friend pointed me to Ed Best, and after I met him at a competition, I began taking Skype lessons with him. Once I had bass drumming basics down, he began teaching me snare, which has actually made my bass drumming better, because I understand the music better. I’m still quite nervous about the snare, but getting better.

I also play in a small performance group, Haggis Rampant, with my daughter and husband (both pipers) – mostly on bodhran, but I’m working some bass and snare into the show.

I have been taking private lessons for years, and continue to take them. But I have always tended to hyper focus on whatever my lesson centers on; in addition, although I mean to practice every day, I often don’t.

My drumming and musicianship have definitely improved through the Dojo. I now average about an hour of practice a day, sometimes more. This includes Dojo classes, and my own practice. Consequentially, my rudiments are getting a workout, and I am exposed to a variety of scores and types of tunes. I’ve also kept up the immersion habit – not every day, but most days. It is inspiring, and I know it’s helping with my drumming.

My improvements are most noticeable in my daily practice (MORE), in my increasing comfort with tune styles I struggled with (strathspeys!), and in my general familiarity with the style of music (immersion and class variety). Most important, I’m enjoying playing.

The drumming classes are great. While I would like to make more live classes to take advantage of the interaction, I do very much like the ability to pause, back up and slow down the class recordings. The structure works very well for me – some warm-up, often some immersion, repetition and explanation, starting at a basic level and moving up to more complicated scores. I also like focusing on just half of the tune each week – on the first week, I’m being introduced to a new score; on the second week, I’m getting to know it even better, with a few adjustments.

My favorite part of the Dojo Drumming curriculum is its holistic nature. I have often told people that pipe band music isn’t just about the music – it’s the history, the culture, the people, the stories.  And it is all interwoven. The Dojo drumming curriculum encourages me to immerse myself in everything that makes this music unique: pipe band music  generally, and Scottish drumming specifically.

Pam Brownlee, Louisiana, USA

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