Shelly MacDonald: Picking Up The Pipes Again

I was 12 years old – that's 50 years ago (good lord!) – when a friend invited me to come watch her play pipes in a family-run pipe band. I was hooked! Talked my parents into joining the band, brought my twin sister along and we were learning the scale within a week.

My grandparents came from Scotland. Hearing the pipes for the first time simply stirred something in me. I couldn't get enough of the music. I got my first set of pipes after a year on the chanter.

For years I got massive headaches when I played and am at times quite amazed that I stuck with it. I loved it that much. Years later I discovered an issue with my diaphragm and after some therapeutic work on it, the headaches stopped completely.

After playing the pipes apparently terribly for a few years, I went to the Nelson, B.C. piping school. I didn't know who Donald MacLeod was at the time, but had a class with him. He taught up proper timing, the importance of embellishment and introduced me to piobaireachd. That school was life changing for me as a piper.

I started as a child so just assumed I could do anything!

Then, I put my pipes down for a decade. My solo piping instructor took his own life. He was an amazing musician, talented piper, great teacher and became a friend. It took me a long time to want to pipe again.

It took me a couple of years (I say kind of sheepishly). It's now 50 years later and I live in a small town where there is a small town pipe band. The band mostly consists of older adult learners who want to play a dozen tunes for parades and what not.

I've been put in the position of acting 'pipe major' and have tried to get the band to at least start together. Over the last couple of years, there has been resistance to striving for a cohesive sound. I got pretty disenchanted by it all and found I played less and less with not being inspired.

My nephew, also a piper, forwarded me an email from the Dojo. I signed up to get the emails. I clicked on the emails and really liked the information within them. I finally decided to join the Dojo for inspiration and support.

I have loved the Dojo so far! Although I have played off and on for many years, I have learned a lot already. I am excited to go through the 5 Phases and have that one on one that will help me set some goals. Dojo has totally inspired me in ways I wasn't expecting.

I have always felt like my arm was stretched a bit too much to hold the bag and my top hand has not felt as relaxed as my bottom hand. My blowpipe hits me more to the side and I have felt uncomfortable with this at times. I've just always accepted that I couldn't change any of that. I've learned that I likely would be better with a small bag rather that the medium I have been playing (it takes me forever to fill it). Also, I'm going to try out some different blowpipes that will hit my mouth more at the centre. Dojo got me to stand in front of a mirror to check my posture. Although I do stand straight, my chanter is far to the left due to the bag size. I also tied my cords a little but closer in. This changed the position that I hold the bag. It's more comfortable with the chanter position, but I will try a small bag. My nephew has one on his pipes and he wants a medium. We are getting together this weekend to try out each others pipes for comfort.

I've just started clapping out the beat and I did pick up a metronome. I find the clapping out the beat very helpful. From a couple of the videos I have seen, there seems to be a graduated way of learning tunes. I'm looking forward to learning more about that.

I am definitely happier. I am thoroughly enjoying listening to 2 hours (at least) of bagpipe music each day, have felt more enjoyment picking up my pipes daily. I find myself looking forward to the day.

Well, I have pretty much told everyone about Dojo. My sister visited for a couple of days and brought her pipes. I showed her the site and let her look around. Then we logged in as a guest so she could see that there was a pile of free stuff if she wasn't ready to commit financially. She was pretty impressed with it. I am really encouraging the few students that I teach to join as well. One student also plays guitar and writes his own songs. I've stressed to him that Dojo is all about being a musician as opposed to practicing embellishments for hours on end. I'll keep at them.

I sure wish I'd had Dojo years ago. Maybe I would never have put them down for that decade.

Shelly MacDonald, United States

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