Thomas Thibeault: All Beginnings Are Difficult

Hearing pipes is an emotional experience for me. I've always been fascinated by Scottish culture and Celtic music. When I see a pipe and drum tattoo it literally makes me choke up. A couple of times I've see solo pipers in an isolated outdoor location playing pipes and I couldn't pull myself away till they were done.

I'm now on my 3rd attempt to learn pipes. 40 years ago, when I was newly married, I bought a practice chanter, but my wife said it sounded like a sick duck (she was probably right) and she couldn't escape the sound in our small apartment so I just gave it up. I quit twice because of lack of support, resources, and quality instruction.

Last year I bought an RG Hardie practice chanter and watched YouTube videos, but the learning process wasn't organized and I felt as if I were lost in a jungle. Motivation became the problem.

A week ago I started up again. I've been frustrated with getting a clean sound on all the notes consistently but I've seen progress and feel more encouraged now. My motivation, access to quality instruction, and resources are better than they were previously.

I wonder often if I'm too old. I'm turning 70 this year and I think, I wish I had stuck with it 40 years ago. If I start learning now, will I get good enough to reach my goal before I can't do it physically anymore? On the other hand, I'm retired now so I have more time to practice. I am very happy with my RG Hardie practice chanter and today I found out about a practice goose. I'm going to get the RG Hardie Goose so I can start making the transition to full pipes.

In our new neighborhood, I discovered that one of the neighbors is a piper and he's the one who told be about Dojo U. It took about 6 months because we were traveling a lot and I didn't feel I could make the best use of the resource until I settled down for a bit.

This is where I finally found quality instruction based on sound pedagogical principles, and an abundance of resources, all readily available through 21st century technology. A couple of days ago I had an orientation meeting with someone who was in the UK and I'm in the US. This would have been impossible just a few years ago.

I also watched a class with students in Colorado, Hawaii, and all over. I appreciate the dojo concept (I have a black belt in Shotokan karate) as well as the university concept (I have a Ph.D. and was a university professor). Bringing these two concepts together is brilliant. I wish I had thought of that when I was teaching.

One thing Dojo U does very well is appeal to the affective domain (motivation), which is something I applied in my teaching. It's as important as the technical part of the learning process because it often determines on whether or not the student will continue learning.

Right now I'm at the most difficult stage, the very beginning where everything is new and difficult. I often repeat to myself a German saying, "Aller Anfang ist schwer" (All beginnings are difficult). I'm just on Dojo U's first challenge right now but it has definitely made a difference in my level of motivation.

Dojo provides quality instruction and an abundance of learning resources. I'm just using a practice chanter now, but will soon start using a goose. I expect that will get me used to breathing techniques and squeezing the bag. I'm just working on playing scales without squeaking now.

I see the techniques in Dojo U as applicable to any endeavor that requires practice with the goal of mastery. I have played guitar for over 50 years but did not approach it as methodically as I do here. I feel I would have become a much better guitar player if I had done so. With the guitar it was almost always "dessert".

For me, learning is a hobby. I always felt that teachers should always be a beginner at something, especially if it's hard for them. That way, they are more likely to have compassion for their student who find their discipline difficult. I have always been an impatient learner, wanting to see results right away and not working methodically enough to reach my goals. Although my short-term goal is to become proficient at playing the pipes, my long-term goal is to approach it in a methodical way and enjoy the learning process without being impatient.

Thomas Thibeault, Illinois, USA

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