Susan Ross: Leaping Ahead in Lockdown

I have always enjoyed listening to bagpipes and I wanted to get back into music, but in a less solitary way than playing piano.

In late 2017 I started going to beginner lessons at a local band.

After attending The Gathering in Braemar, my interest in bagpipes was rekindled and I I knew that I wanted to learn to play, to the best of my ability, with technical correctness and produce a good sound.

When I was a kid, our neighbour the next farm over practiced his bagpipes in the evenings and I loved listening to him as the sound of pipes travelled across a great distance. I wanted to be able to do that. I hadn't given much thought to where I would play or with whom, but I knew I would like to play outside and hoped that someone else might enjoy it as I had.

Everything about bagpipes was hard, at first. There were no nearby retailers, nothing fit, nothing was comfortable, it was all like wearing your cousin's hand me downs except the cousin is much bigger and a different sex.

Someone else was always telling me what was easy, what was comfortable and they were always touching my pipes but not explaining what they were doing and how.

I was completely discouraged because all they said was it will get easier, but most days it just seemed to get harder.

For a year I diligently practiced on my practice chanter but I made zero progress on my pipes. I just became more and more discouraged and convinced I would never be able to play my pipes. I also felt it frustrating going to beginner practice and most people didn't practise during the week and there was little focus on good execution and most of the time was spent on just getting through the tunes with everyone making up there own stuff. I became demotivated.

My limiting beliefs were mostly that I would never be able to do more than gasp out Mairi's Wedding because my pipes were too hard to play. I also felt my fingers would never move fast enough to execute well.

I thought about quitting the pipes for over a year because they were too hard to play and never felt like they were getting any easier. If I ran into problems with them during the week then I had to wait until next practice to have the PM check them out. I had no understanding of what to do with them. I paid for them but someone else had to look after them because I didn't know anything about them.

In my growing despair of ever being able to play my pipes I started looking for other resources, teachers, etc. Since there weren't any teachers close by, I started googling for information and one of those searches turned up the Dojo.

After seeing some of the resources available through the Dojo, I think I signed up quite quickly. I knew I had to do something differently because my current trajectory was leading away from my goals.

The Dojo community is like the best place I ever worked. I find that generally everyone wants everybody to do the best they can, we celebrate each other's achievements and encourage each other, especially when we have setbacks or fall short. We share information, we find ways to socialize outside/after classes. Some are lucky enough to meet in person. It's fun to meet people of different ages, from all over the world with a shared passion, and so many are so much fun and so motivating. I have made a number of good friends!

The first thing the Dojo did for me was to help de-mystify the bagpipe as a musical instrument. I play piano but I don't really know the intricacies of how it works to play it. I now have good understanding of how my pipes work and how to keep them working. The Dojo empowered me with a thought process for efficient operation of my pipes and a thought process about learning to make music on my pipes. Poor instruction keeps the learner entirely dependent, the Dojo teaches in a way that we can take what we learn and apply it to most music and situations we will encounter.

The Transitioning to Bagpipes Course and learning to maintain my own pipes was a game changer for me. The day I tore all the hemp off my pipes was the tipping point between my trajectory to quitting and me starting to love my pipes and getting joy from playing them.

I have far fewer crossing noises and in the online competitions I did this year I got lots of positive comments about the quality of my technique.

In 2020, while my bandmates were packing their pipes away, feeling alone and unmotivated, I was playing my pipes every day, attending Dojo classes or listening to replays. I was interacting every week with a great group of like-minded, motivated learners, I was making friends, stepping out of my comfort zone and playing in front of others in class and getting specific, actionable feedback.

By 2021, after being on my pipes for one year, I entered my very first competitions, online. I had some modest placings in three of those competitions, including a 4th place out of 29 entrants in the Glengarry On-line Games for Grade 5 March.

This was far beyond what I thought I could achieve and is attributable to the foundation and encouragement from the Dojo and my instructor, who is also a Dojo instructor.

When our band started back with in-person practices the PM and Pipe-Sergeant both said they couldn't believe the improvement in the quality of my playing during the time we were apart. I also had more stamina than anyone else in our band during practices.

I still have a long way to go, but I feel supported with the right instruction, tools, information and encouragement!

Susan Ross, Ontario, Canada

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