February 13, 2010

Kids these days

So much to do.When it comes to piping and drumming, kids have it a lot harder today. I’ve come to this conclusion after once again trying to get back into a more regular routine of practicing. I say “trying” because, inevitably, that routine is more like a sporadic, when-I-can-block-out-all-other-distractions-and-temptations, series of sessions that gradually, slowly, maybe, do the job.

When I was learning to play in the 1970s and ’80s, distractions and temptations consisted of games of corkball, kickball, capture-the-flag or kick-the-can; building the occasional model airplane or boat; a train set; or the baseball Game of the Week on TV on summer Saturday afternoons. Sure, there were moments of getting up to no good with friends, but, by and large it was easy to find time to practice. In suburban St. Louis there wasn’t much else to do and, however nerdy piping may have been, it was something to do that was at least marginally less boring.

Maybe because it was so routine, I hardly remember practicing at all. But it must have been a lot. I do remember practicing exercises while watching one of the three or four TV channels (until my mother would turn off “that idiot box”), or listening to ballgames on the radio, or, yes, doing homework. When it comes to multi-tasking (read: ADD), I was an early adopter. I’m still prone to playing scales while doing something else, but I really don’t recommend it – you end up doing both half-way and, evidently, years later you won’t remember any of it.

It amazes me that there are any kids pursuing piping or drumming today – and it’s positively astonishing, come to think of it, that the boys and girls who do somehow become committed to or afflicted by it are playing at a standard that is, overall, better than ever. The siren-songs constantly blaring from the Internet, or the 500-channel TV universe, or video games, or alluring retail temptations that are positively everywhere one would think would make today’s young piper or drummer a rare breed indeed.

So, my hat is off to every young player out there who today has the focus and commitment to do this crazy, still very nerdy, thing.

Back in my day, we had it a lot easier.


  1. I really admire young people who pipe and drum or play/learn any instrument for that matter. At seasonal piping schools the dedication you see in them is amazing, and what amazes me is how NICE they all are and for the most part polite and considerate. It always makes me want to really encourage them. At the Silver Cap contest last summer I happened to sit beside a young person, I think from Ontario, and she was a pupil of the judge, and loved piobaireachd. How amazing is that? It totally added to the event. Unfortunately I mislaid the contact details we exchanged. But don’t you think these days more parents have cars and can get offspring to lessons, and that there are more group classes, summer schools, schemes and grants and bursaries to help young people learn? In that way, perhaps its easier in this day and age, but I take the point – with a zillion things to look after online and that’s just for starters, it truly is admirable when a young person takes themself off for some serious practice.

  2. Many of the kids in my neighbourhood were attracted to pipes because I left my window open when I practiced. I bought four 3/4 size chanters and four sets of John Cairns Book 1 with CD. At halloween I played smallpipes in my kilt at the door and they ALL were amazed and intrigued. I have now sold every one of the chanters and books to their parents over two years. They would come by for a half hour visit, get interested and I passed them on to a REAL pipe teacher. The best way to get kids interested? Play in your neighbourhood. It’s cooler than it sounds, and all my neighbours were supportive. Well most….One turned up the Wagner and blasted it back at me! Still does!

  3. On the plus side Andrew, think of all the amazing resources available to help the learning. Sites like yours, discussion forums, YouTube, lessons on Skype, etc. For those that do have the interest, geography is no obstacle!

  4. you’re right, it’s amazing to me when kids find a dedication to any instrument-let alone piping! my girls have an endless array of choices of things to do and sometimes I need to remind them to practice!
    Growing up I remember my siblings and I practicing-in different rooms of the house-and then together (Mom insisted!) We just seemed to practice without reminder everyday, when we were bored with 5 channel TV! Most of the neighborhood enjoyed our liitle mini band. But i do remember a very heated exchange my Father had with a neighbor when we were practicing on the porch on a nice summer evening! The kids who do play pipes, or any instrument for that matter, all have the same things in common, a great love and dedication to making music and sounding good! Perhaps some things never change!



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