The First Time

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I headed to my first ever Pipers’ Gathering simply hoping for a chance to try my hand at Scottish smallpipes. I’ve played the highland pipes since my teens but now, as a retiree, I hope to share my love of this music by playing an instrument that can be played indoors and with other instruments. Also, I wondered if playing a bellows-blown instrument would enable me sing with my pipes. In every way, the Pipers’ Gathering far exceeded my expectations.  

The Gathering arranged for me to borrow a set of smallpipes that I played during two group lessons each day—totalling six hours of instruction—with two different instructors; Iain MacInnes and Barry Shears—each of whom brought a different approach to teaching the fundamentals of the instrument to my beginners’ group.

Among my fellow students were other highland pipers, a flautist, a sculptor, and an Australian. We ranged in age from twenty-five to retirement age. By the end of the weekend, we were playing complete tunes that sounded surprisingly good!  

In addition to group instruction, the Gathering offered workshops in a wide variety of topics and I was able to attend an excellent workshop on singing with smallpipes at which the instructor and several of the participants demonstrated that the human voice and these lovely instruments blend beautifully.  

Each of the two full days of instruction was capped with a performance by the Gathering’s international cast of renowned musicians. The concerts included both solo and ensemble playing and I felt so fortunate to experience this amazing music in such an intimate setting. Perhaps the greatest part of the entire weekend was the atmosphere of collegiality in which the attendees generously shared their knowledge, skills, advice, and encouragement. We were truly unified by our passion for this music. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I eagerly await next year’s Gathering.

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