January 17, 2020

Enlightenment: Drummer Robbie Crow and piper Austin Diepenhorst on being visually impaired in a visual community

By and large, piping and drumming is a welcoming community. For an art form rooted in an essentially traditional military world of Caucasian, male, able-bodied soldiers, we have come a long way to bring in women, visible minorities, those who identify as LGBTQ  and disabled people.

While we might fancy that we are doing well in that regard, there is still a long way to go. The #MeToo movement brought to light remaining problems and inequities with which female pipers and drummers still face.

As pipes|drums was the first and only media outlet to discuss #MeToo, we want to take things further by looking into other areas in which we need better understanding so that we might foster an even better community for all pipers and drummers.

#MeToo: A collective call to members of our community
November 1, 2017


October 19, 2017


Let’s continue by considering visually impaired people. There certainly have been sightless pipers, with “Blind” Archie MacNeill perhaps being the most prominent and successful in history. There is of course “Squinting Patrick” of “Flame of Wrath” lore.

Robbie Crow (2nd from left) with the Grade 2 Royal Burgh of Stirling Pipe Band, 2015.

Two of the most well-known blind pipers and drummers today are Robbie Crow of Glasgow and Austin Diepenhorst of San Diego. Each has risen to the higher grades of competition, Crow as a longtime snare drummer member of the Grade 2 Royal Burgh of Stirling and an accomplished solo competitor; Diepenhorst as a piper member of the Grade 2 Cameron Highlanders of San Diego and one of the fastest-rising solo competitors at the Professional/Open level.

Robbie started his pipe band career at a community band in Alloa, Central Scotland, and from there, he moved to Denny & Dunipace Gleneagles where he learned from John McKail, John Gibson and, laterally, Arthur Cook.

Robbie Crow (2nd left) with Royal Burgh of Stirling on a trip to Taiwan, 2014.

He was lead-drummer of the Denny & Dunipace Grade 4 band for three years, and also took his talents to Ontario, competing with Grade 4 Dofasco, winning the Amateur Grade 2 snare solos at Maxville in 2011. At Royal Burgh of Stirling he’s played under L-D George Walls since 2012.

In addition to drumming, Crow is an accomplished tall ship sailor and has advised the international governing body of sail training, Sail Training International, as well as other sail training organizations internationally. He is one of only two physically disabled people worldwide to develop a career in tall ship sailing.

Professionally, he is an expert in Accessibility & Inclusion, advising employers, organizations, venues, events, and governments on how to better accommodate the requirements of disabled people, ensuring that no one is discriminated against because of an impairment. He is chairman of the UK’s national charity for children born without eyes and with underdeveloped eyes.

Robbie Crow was born legally blind, with only 3% vision in one eye. He writes regularly on disability issues and the barriers facing disabled people in everyday life. The majority of Robbie’s work is focused on integrating the Social Model of Disability into society.

Austin Diepenhorst, San Diego.

Originally from Hawaii and now living in Santee, California, a suburb of San Diego, Austin Diepenhorst is a piper working hard to build up a track record of solo competition to set up acceptance to some of the bigger events in Scotland. After winning the 2015 and 2016 George Sherriff Memorial Amateur Invitational and the MSR at the Nicol-Brown Amateur Invitational in 2016 he made the move to Professional. He has been competing successfully since, including a second prize in the Professional B-Piobaireachd at the 2019 North American Championships at Maxville, Ontario, and a second prize in the United States Silver Medal at Winter Storm in 2019.

Austin Diepenhorst at Winter Storm, Kansas City, Missouri, January 2019.

His piping teachers are some of the best in the business: Richard King worked with him to get to the top levels and now Bruce Gandy is polishing on his talent.

Diepenhorst was with the Cameron Highlanders from 2011 to 2018, and now has his target set on being able to play with a Grade 1 band, including at the World Championships, and “to simply learn as much as I can and become the best player I can be, and make some friends along the way.”

Robbie Crow and Austin Diepenhorst are accomplished players by any standard. Because of their visual impairments, they have a unique perspective on getting there.

With a goal of essential understanding, pipes|drums approached them to see if they might be interested in speaking about their experiences. As with anything, only with more information and appreciation can we become better, and we are grateful to them for taking the time to share their thoughts on being visually impaired in the piping and drumming world.

Reading handwritten scoresheets, accessing music scores, watching the pipe-major’s fingers or the lead-drummer’s sticks, marching, accessing summary sheets, maintaining the instrument – these are all aspects of the art that the sighted take for granted, and in our video interview with these two leaders, all come to the fore.

We worked to correct a few minor technical difficulties, and we hope that you enjoy and learn from the 30-minute video conversation with these two leaders in their own right.



#MeToo: A collective call to members of our community
November 1, 2017


October 19, 2017


Oban and Inverness lists beg the Q: Where are the women?
August 1, 2018


City of Dunedin: 2019 North American Champions
August 3, 2019


Austin Diepenhorst: 2016 Sherriff Memorial Champion
November 19, 2016


Videos: Diepenhorst wins 20th annual Sherriff
November 21, 2015


Hutton scoops up 2016 Nicol-Brown Championship
October 8, 2016


New RSPBA contest at Airth shaping up well
June 30, 2010





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