Young Musicians With A Passion For Pipes & Drums
Fiercely Dedicated and Unlimited Potential
When I first stepped into the world of piping, drumming and bands I had no idea what I was signing up for. The learning curve was steep as I fumbled through the first few seasons learning the ins and outs of competition both on the solo platforms and within the band circles. Before I ever snapped the first capture I was surprised to learn that the overseeing competitive associations (within the states or Canada) offer no division for children only, nor are children compensated with ribbons for participation. Having had experiences with little league baseball and junior soccer teams, I was mildly horrified wondering how these young egos would endure the fight into the top five or six placings in beginner (or Grade 5) competitive groups that frequently swelled to between 15 and 24 budding musicians. What I quickly discovered was not only do these young artists thrive, but they also quickly learn that when hitting those top five positions they have sincerely earned it. My initial concern rapidly faded into a deep respect for this community’s commitment to teach and model how to own accomplishments with the pride of having worked for it.
Furthermore, and perhaps most impressively, is that the lessons are not taught with shame or berating attitudes trying to force improvement, but rather with a genuine respect for the children. I have witnessed countless interactions between the rock stars and icons of the community with scores of child musicians in which they approach interactions first from the perspective of fellow pipers or drummers, and second with the generosity of heart, and recognition that they are children. I firmly believe that it is the pride born of respect that develops a fierce determination, and the integrity of the nurturing bond between the mentors and teachers, and their students that fuels a perseverance that is seldom seen in youth.
These instruments present a physical burden that most adults feel they couldn’t endure. During one parade I witnessed an 70 pound, seven year old drummer insist on preforming with a full 30+ pound drum (at the time there was no smaller alternative to playing with the band). She played and carried that instrument, almost half her own weight, for almost a mile before succumbing to her raging little muscles and relinquishing the burden to her father who had walked the parade route along the sidewalks to support his determined daughter. To the surprise of all, that same little girl collected her drum back from her father within a few blocks and completed the last third of a mile of the parade as a drummer. I think of that day when I see adults scampering for the ibuprofen after 20 minutes of supporting those instruments at a stand, let alone along a mile and a half parade route in burning summer heat.
How many adults even attempt becoming beginner bagpipers? So few that they consistently are an obvious minority within the community. As I wander the highland games with my lens at the ready, I am presented with the most amazing sights and sounds of seven and eight year old musicians with amazing, deliberate performances on these cumbersome, octopus instruments. Four reeds, heavy black wood drones three quarters as tall as the musician, and a bag frequently the size of their young torsos all being mastered with fortitude. These young musicians rarely use the word can’t unless it’s to say, “I’m sorry I can’t come to play today – I have band practice!” It has frequently tickled me how often I have seen instructors having to convince their students that band practice is over and it’s time to go home.
Just acquiring the skills and physical ability needed to play these instruments can seem overwhelming to any practical thinking person, but if the process doesn’t dissuade, the performance rigors might. Unshaken by the sheer will it takes to achieve a musical performance, these young giants of commitment play in blazing heat, frigid downpours, and in front of crowds that can hit numbers in the thousands. I have seem them bravely perform with media filming them within inches of their instruments, and I have seen them absorb the sheer awe of stadium crowds with the presence of future rock stars. They are rarely swayed from competition by the discomforts of the day choosing instead to don the hats of seasoned professionals with nerves of steel and perform with intention.
You can see in their eyes the power they harness as they bring incredible music to the field, and the inspiration they bring to the audiences they play for. In a band they are a team of symbiotic parts, but in their eyes they hold the seriousness of purpose. One young drummer inspired the phrase, “she can stare the bark off trees” from her director, Kevin Auld and heads would node heartily in agreement. But time and time again I see that steely eyed focus on these musicians, and whether they are seven or seventeen I can feel their intention and focus in my soul. The junior pipe bands display ranks of musicians who understand the commitment that leads to achievement, who tenaciously pursue the art of performance, and who fiercely march toward the next challenge in a thunder of pride. To all of the young artists I have had the great honor of meeting and those I have not, thank you for the inspiration you represent along your journey.
A Few Moments Through My Lens