Top marks as NI Branch School breaks enrolment record

This excellent picture of a successful Agivey Pipe Band is one of the latest submitted by readers
This excellent picture of a successful Agivey Pipe Band is one of the latest submitted by readers

THE Northern Ireland Branch of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association recently released some statistics relating to its school programme which make for very encouraging reading.

The figures show an increase in enrolment at the schools’ five sites totalling more than 240 pupils – an excellent number of young people turning out each Saturday morning to advance their learning of piping, drumming or drum major skills.

Regular readers of the Tartan Talk column will have seen, from time to time, details of the school, so it is fitting that I can bring a flavour of the results that are being achieved.

News of the record-breaking enrolment figures follows hot on the heels of details from the 2011/12 school year which also saw some notable achievements.

The introduction of five regional centres at Ballymena, Banbridge, Cookstown, Enniskillen and Londonderry - which operated each Saturday from October up to the end of March 2011.

Piping, Drumming Qualifications Board Certificates (PDQ) are the educational standards with 182 students in total taking up the courses on offer.

The results across the piping and drumming disciplines are impressive. In piping there was an 85 per cent ‘A’ Grade success, with a 97 per cent overall pass. Drumming saw a 65 per cent A Grade success rate, with a 94 per cent overall pass.

In an effort to cater for the earliest learners a new level was introduced. The Foundation Syllabus was developed for the benefit and encouragement of beginners. Instructors within the school had deemed it necessary to provide the young students with a stepping-stone toward PDQB Level 1.

The Foundation Certificates saw an excellent 100 per cent pass rate with an 89 per cent pass rate for drum majors, which took place at the Enniskillen Centre.

While teaching youth is of course a major focus for the school, instructors took to the road and introduced Band Workshops.

During the ‘off season’ months three workshops were held specifically for the Grade Four bands hosted at Garvagh, Fivemiletown and Gilnahirk respectively.

The theme for each was Setting the Foundation for Tonal Balance, which attracted representatives from over thirty bands; with some taking the opportunity to attend more than one of the seminars.

In relation to the band workshops I was delighted to receive excellent feedback, not only from the association bands, but also members of Crimson Arrow Pipe Band, Newcastle, a Brian Boru band who attended the Gilnahirk workshop.

For the solo pipers there was a series of six seminars dealing with the piping discipline Piobaireachd.

Fourteen pipers enrolled for these seminars and the impact of these sessions was easily measured. Of the 14 pipers enrolled, 13 competed in the Ulster Solo Piping Championships.

The Piobaireach seminars saw specialist instruction from pipe major Chris Armstrong with support from the schools’ own piping instructors.

One comment surrounding the Piobaireachd was with regard to the ‘application of dedicated students and appropriate planning we can confidently expect the mini – revolution in this discipline to gain momentum in the future’.

This past school year also saw the development of a working relationship between the RSPBA NI and the Ulster Scots Agency in relation to teaching.

There was a large turnout of politicians, officials, parents, young people and invited guests for the official launch of the Foundation Certificate programme at Stormont.

This was soon followed by news of the first summer residential. The Residential Summer Adventure Programme was held in August at the NEELB’s Bushmills Education Outdoor Centre. Pipe Major Andy McGregor led the team who ensured this was an outstanding success. Good news on this front is that work is already underway in planning 2013’s residential.

Finally mention was made of the Ulster-Scots Agency Day School programme which helped to raise the profile of piping, drumming and related activities within the formal education structure.

Of course while the good work of the Branch School is often documented, I am regularly reminded of the hard work carried out by bands in halls up and down the country teaching young people. As everyone within the band structure will be well aware, hundreds of hours each year are spent trying to develop the talents of young pipers and drummers. There is some support available for running tuition classes from bodies such as the Ulster Scots Agency, but in many cases the instruction is provided voluntarily with the reward coming when a young piper or drummer makes it out with the band.

All the teaching that is done goes a long way to keeping Northern Ireland bands at the pinnacle of the pipe band world, as the results at the major championships have shown over recent years.

*Members of McDonald Memorial Pipe Band are nearing the end of their sponsored weight loss fund raising initiative, with the aim of losing a combined weight of 100lbs in three months. Twelve band members are taking part, and so far the target hasn’t been reached. I understand that some people are losing weight - but others are gaining!

The competition between the sexes has been going on since the dieting began, but the girls are still beating the guys. Rumour has it that some of the more athletic members in the band must be training lots and building their muscles.

There has been an improvement as the weeks have gone by – and everyone will be hoping this continues if they are to avoid the forfeit. With only a few weeks left, every pound will count.

Anyone wishing to sponsor the band members can contact Vikki on 078 4950 8516 or by email to Donations may be also made online. Check out the band Facebook page