June 05, 2012

For the parents

By Andrew Berthoff

The world of piping and drumming can be a strange and unusual place for the non-piping/drumming parents of young kids becoming involved with the art. As a child of a mother and father who knew nothing about the mysterious and exclusive club before allowing their boy to become involved, I recognize now how difficult it can be, even more so after teaching young pipers who are plunging into our pool of competition, decorum and tradition.

So, here are a few tips especially for the parents of young pipers and drummers who might be struggling with the decision as to whether to allow their boy or girl to continue with what will become a life-long involvement.

Piping/drumming prepares them for life. Your son or daughter will be surrounded by adults from every background, every profession, every ability. They will learn to conduct themselves in a mature way, and have the benefit of weekly interaction with very smart people. Religion or social status does not exist in piping and drumming. The music is the great equalizer. Your boy or girl is more likely to appreciate people for their skills and character, rather than discriminate or prejudge.

Piping/drumming creates lifelong friendships. Your child will meet other kids his/her age within the band, at competitions and at summer schools. These friendships will last forever. And wherever your son or daughter goes, he/she will find instant friends in the piping community.

Your child will always be “the piper” or “the pipe band drummer.” Do not underestimate the value of being in this exclusive club. It will help your kid stand apart from all of the other mundane hobbyists. Listing “bagpipes” on a university application or resume will be noticed and remembered, and virtually everyone has some sort of positive piping-related connection. It’s an immediate common-bond.

If all else fails, there’s always piping/drumming. Once your child becomes good at his/her art, it is a constant safety net. Your kid can always find paid gigs or teach beginners either part-time or even professionally. Piping at ceremonies is increasingly popular. And once your child learns rudiment-based pipe band drumming, other drumming will be easy in comparison.

Your child will learn to fail. Sounds strange, but it’s a great skill to possess. I’ve said before that even Willie McCallum or Jim Kilpatrick – winningest competitors who they may be – have had far more non-first-prizes. In our competition-based world, your boy or girl will learn to accept defeat, learn from mistakes, and work harder to be better next time. Unlike junior’s football team or dance group, there are no medals in piping/drumming for those who don’t earn a prize.

Competition is preparation for real-life pressure. Standing solo before a wizened judge can be a knee-shaking thing. Delivering when your band-mates are counting on you is even more nerve-racking. At the beginning, you might consider this unnecessary pressure for your child, but understand that each time he/she competes and improves with each event is practice for that university interview, the class presentation, the job interview or the seminar for colleagues. Once you’ve stood at the trigger at the World Pipe Band Championships, or climbed the boards at a big solo event, that real-life stuff is cake.

It’s music. Because of the competition-driven nature of what we do, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that your child is making music. It’s art from nothingness. Like fireworks, it’s beautiful for a second, and then it’s gone forever. And your kid is creating it to the best of his or her ability. Don’t ever forget that that is a true miracle more valuable than anything above.

So, I hope these points are of use to parents of young pipers or drummers delving into our little world that, once seen in a bigger view, is full of benefits for life in general.


  1. This is a great article I do hope every parent reads it. everything is so true Ive been in it for 70 years and have not regreted one minute of my time. I love teaching children and there progres is all the thanks I need. Great post.Bill

  2. Thanks for this wonderful blog- every point is true. I was a child of non-pipers who surprised my parents at age 9 by telling them I wanted to learn the pipes. They graciously put up with the travel, not to mention the audio damage, of my early years and came to embrace the music and the lifestyle. While I gave them up at age 16, I never quite got the bug out of my system. 6 years ago, at age 43, I picked them up again, and this spring was able to play them for my father’s funeral. It was a great comfort to me and (I’m pretty sure) my family.

  3. Great stuff, Andrew. Seems like parenthood becomes you! Agree with the sentiment, and it worked for our lad. One could feel secure Band nites, when your kids are not hanging out with Drug Rats at the Mall etc. It also made me reflect on a half century ago and all I learned from the mainly Street Band players in my own learning days. Adults and other kids from all walks of life gave me a glimpse into different worlds, seeing a lot of interesting perspectives – and even got me a summer job in high school. Trust it works for the grandchildren as well, and it is all about the music.

  4. “unlike junior’s football team or dance group, there are no medals in piping/drumming for those who don’t earn a prize”

    Highland Dance doesn’t fall into this. You’ve got to earn your way there too 🙂

    Great post.

  5. Andrew, I haven’t agreed with all of your blogs over the years, but this one is spot on. You hit the nail on the head quite nicely thank you much.

  6. Insightful as always Andrew! All the more reason for those of us “in the game” to thank our non-piping parents for all they gave up for us, I’ll do that tonight when my Dad picks me up from the airport!

  7. This is a great artic and very true! As a drum instructor, I’m constantly looking for ways to inspire parents to keep their kids involved with pipe band. Your artical hit the nail on the head! So to speak… I’ve seen many kids come and go through the youth organizations and have seen first hand, it’s bennifits for young adults and children. Not only with mastering and instrument, but helping kids with focus at home and in their school work. I’m very thankful for your artical and it’s message. Keep up the good work!

  8. You are spot on. When I took my daughter to a highland game, she told me that she was done with violin and pipes were the instrument for her. Our youth band attempted to ease us in slowly and not scare us off with competition demands. Then they found out my sister and I learned to sew kilts. Quickly I realized my kids have events and activities that are not available to the average child (Worlds – wow). As we say “our kids are on the street, but they are marching” to new parents. It is a totally different journey then I thought I was going to be on but I would not trade it. We will be sharing your post with many new parents. Thank you!

  9. Wow! Those words couldn’t be more true:) Learning to pipe and being a member of the pipe band world was the best thing I ever did! Such a great and memorable experience I will never forget!!

  10. Any band worth its salt will put together an information pack for new members (read: for the parents) and include this excellent advice from Mr Berthoff. It is right on the money! Well done!

  11. FANTASTIC entry, AB. Reading the first few words I was expecting a pun or two, but what I found was sound and very useful advice. Now on a lighter note, parents here in Brazil often fire me the question, ‘but, huh, is my boy really gonna need to wear a SKIRT’???

  12. Very true! What about something for the poor wifes/husbands who has his/her partner in it…

    I am printing this for my wife until you get one out for them 🙂

  13. I have five children whom all played football, hockey, baseball and swimming and your comment is spot on. Every child pays every child plays does not encourage children to practice and bring the same dedication because in the end the are rewarded in some way. One of my five left hockey to join a Pipe band at the age of 14. From the time he joined he knew he had to practice, practice so he could get into the competition band and he did that and was in the competition band the next season. Then with-in three years he was drum sergeant. He is 21 now and is dedicated to his band and his music that he still practices to improve his drumming. He teaches new drummers and his youngest student is his 3 year old Nephew who has been trying to be a drummer since he was one. My sons teacher has inspired him since he joined the band as a 13 year old and now as a friend. Music brings families together, this is one activity that whole families can participate in. Being in a Pipe Band has helped make him the confident young man he is. He understands that if you want anything in life that it is not just handed to you, you have to work hard to be your best.

  14. Thank you! Excellently written, succinct, and entirely well put! l second the motion for a ‘spouse support’ article next, please!

  15. Andrew. Would it be possible for me to re-print this blog on our youth band website? We would ensure full credit was given to you, but would like it more “front and centre” than simply linking to the blog, especially given that the article is at the bottom of the page . Please let me know if this is possible or if you would prefer we didn’t. If not, then thank you for writing a fantastic article.



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