School celebrates 30 years of piping and drumming

Harry Stevenson performing at the November Gathering of the Blackthorn Pipers Society
Harry Stevenson performing at the November Gathering of the Blackthorn Pipers Society

TO mark three decades of educating some of Northern Ireland’s finest pipers, drummers and adjudicators the Northern Ireland Piping and Drumming School (NIPDS) will be the guest at a festive celebratory reception in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Thursday, December 13, 2012. The renowned school, which is funded by Arts Council NI, will showcase some of its talent covering a variety of age ranges including pipers, drummers and Highland dancers to an audience which will include MLAs, Arts Council NI, Arts Council Ireland and president of the Piobaireachdt Society Andrew Wright, who has been the visiting lecturer in Piobaireachd and Canntaireachd at the Northern Ireland Piping and Drumming School for over 17 years.

Students and tutors of NIPDS have attained awards in solo competitions in both piping and drumming at the highest level and others have led bands to world titles. The school caters for all abilities and many enrol not to gain competitive honours but to learn how to play properly, adding to their enjoyment of their instrument, and with some going on to become qualified teachers in the piping and drumming field.

NIPDS currently operates from two permanent centres in Northern Ireland at Laurelhill Community College in Lisburn and Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.

To enrol in a course, contact Sharon Noade, Lisburn on 07745 169 327, or Cecil Jones, Enniskillen on 07533 979 404.

n There was some disappointing news this week with confirmation that the Grade One Lothian and Borders Police Pipe Band is to disband in the new year.

March 31, 2013 is the given date for the closure of the band after a series of meetings revealed that it would not have sufficient members to continue competing.

Several key personnel, including Pipe Major Andrew Hall, a member of the military, have had to step down due to work commitments and relocation.

In recent years the band has been competing in the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’s top level but has rarely featured near the prize lists. However, readers of a certain vintage will certainly remember the band in its former guise – as the seven times world champions Edinburgh City Police.

The band has a proud history that can be traced back more than 100 years.

Restructuring of Scotland’s police forces in the 1970s saw the band become Lothian and Borders and the current changes to policing have in no small part led to its demise.

Lothian and Borders competed in the grade one competitions at Stormont over the three years the European Championships were held in the Province.

Before that the band performed at a small concert in Larne Leisure Centre prior to competing at the Co Antrim Championships in 2008.

The demise of Lothian and Borders must cast a shadow of doubt over the future of some of Scotland’s other police pipe bands, of which there are several at the top level.

Strathclyde Police would be the most prominent and indeed they have had problems in recent years, however they remains one of Scotland’s leading pipe bands regularly collecting prizes in the top six at major championships. Hopefully the changes to policing will not have such an impact on other police force bands.

n The Blackthorn Pipers’ Society recently met in Dromore with a series of excellent performances enjoyed by those attending.

The evening got under way with Ryan Cupples opening the entertainment by playing Molly Darling. This was followed by an unnamed slow air then into the strathspey Aspen Bank and the reel, Lachlan McPhail of Tiree. Ryan finished his performance with the 6/8 march Angus MacKinnon.

A newcomer was welcomed next with Harry Stevenson taking the floor. Harry will be familiar to many as a highly experienced judge, but he was a long-time member of the famous Robert Armstrong Memorial Pipe Band, including a time as its pipe major.

He does some teaching and composing as well as judging and it was one of his own compositions – a 3/4 march called Joe McConville – which he played first. He continued his performance with a selection of 6/8 marches before finishing with the slow air The Rose and the Petals.

Scott Barr was up next before the interval opening with the Bloody Fields of Flanders and the Banks of Allan Water. This was followed by two marches and the two jigs – the Mason’s Apron and the Blue Cloud.

After the break it was Ben Greeves’ turn to play, followed by something of a change in instruments as the Great Highland Bagpipe was put to one side in favour of the smallpipes played by Blackthorn president Willie Garrett.

Willie’s performance included an air of his own composition, followed by a hornpipe called the Blackbird, then three jigs. His performance was concluded to great applause with two polkas.

The Blackthorn piper on the night was Derek Boyce, a member of St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band.

After opening with three 3/4 marches Derek went into a big set of two-part strathspeys and reels.

This was followed by his Piobaireachd, the Fields of Gold, by Donald McLeod.

The next Blackthorn Gathering will take place on December 12.