The joys and challenges of organizing a piping and drumming summer school in North America
The Ontario School of Piping & Drumming was started by the renowned piper Jim McGillivray in 1998 and has since continued every year, attracting upwards of 70 students for each one-week session. The school’s instructors have been some of the modern-day legends of piping, including Willie McCallum, Alasdair Gillies and Stuart Liddell. This year’s school has seen the return of more famous instructors, like Angus MacColl, Bruce Gandy and Jack Lee and, perhaps remarkably, attracted record enrollment, including a record number of drummers seeking instruction from, among others, Doug Stronach, Lead-Drummer of the Grade 1 Toronto Police Pipe Band.
Summer schools are nothing new in North America. Ever since Seumas MacNeill helped to establish the first one at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, Nova Scotia, in the 1950s, the idea has increased in popularity, to the point that there are no fewer than a dozen courses of at least one-week held throughout the continent every year.
The competition to attract students can be fierce, and, although few if any organizers run piping and drumming schools for the money, balancing revenues and expenditures can be a distracting nuisance – considering that most do it for the passion of the pipes and drums.
We checked in with Ellen Mole, current director of the Ontario School and a former top-level solo piper and member of the Grade 1 Guelph Pipe Band, for her thoughts on what makes the school and the students tick in this video interview on the hot and muggy evening of July 8, 2010.