One of the most remarkable changes in the piping world in the last twenty years is the commercialization of the game. When I say “commercialize” I mean just that, “1. To apply methods of business for profit. 2. a. To do, exploit, or make chiefly for financial gain or, b. To sacrifice the quality of for profit.”
I suggest to you piping commercialization has grown above the natural levels associated with population growth.
The bagpipe, drumming, and pipe band worlds have always had people who’ve made their living from the game. It could never be any other way. We needed – and need – people who choose to devote full-time energy and enterprise to support the infrastructure we need to exist: manufacturers, retailers, promoters, organizers and, to some extent, teachers.
I know you’ll see me shill at every turn CDs and music books and – sometimes – me. I think I give a lot away but, still, I’m a long way off from being a crazy Celtic philanthropist. Far from it.
I think now of the good fortune I’ve had in my life in receiving the very best tuition. My first teacher, George Walker, would “charge” $3.00 an hour [usually two hours]; even in those days $3.00 wouldn’t buy much, for George maybe a couple of whiskies in the band room. John Wilson was the priciest, relatively speaking, at $15.00 an hour. Bill Livingstone never charged a penny but for a couple of $20.00 lessons before I joined his pipe band [clever fellow]. Ditto for John Walsh, Bob Worrall and Ed Neigh - all free and generous with their time. I had many lessons with Captain John MacLellan in his Dean Park Crescent home. He’d never take a penny.
Teaching pipes got me through university. I charged a firm rate – $20.00 an hour – and was grateful for every penny. I guess my ramble today is about the sense I have that the piping game (and I include pipe bands and drumming in all of that) today seeks out every possible and conceivable opportunity to squeeze a penny out of the musical pursuit.
I’m not advocating freebie lessons, really – though wouldn’t it be great if that was possible. It just feels like the soul of the music is getting squeezed, beyond lessons. Business sponsorships of bands and events common at every turn. It’s more common than not that people looking to drink from the cup of the Great Highland Bagpipe are getting squeezed for a buck, a pound, or a Euro.
It’s so nice to see people like Colin MacLellan (yes, admittedly, one of my friends) offer gratis online lessons. Colin’s playing style is rooted in the very finest tuition and provenance but, still, very much his own excellent, original style. I strongly encourage you to check out his fine offerings – all the finer for being free of charge for one and all. His efforts are a good example of how it might be done.
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