Piping & Drumming in Schools – One Band’s Fight for Survival

By Alister Rae, Secretary, West Fife Schools Pipe Band

In response to the article entitled ‘Music Teaching in Scotland – Is New Ruling More Hot Air or a Wake Up Call’, I thought I’d enlighten Piping Press readers about the situation in West Fife. 

There are very few opportunities in West Fife to learn piping or drumming in schools. My understanding is that St Columba’s High School in Dunfermline and Lochgelly High School are the only council-run schools in in the area to offer lessons. I have no idea what they charge. 

In 2011, Inverkeithing High School cut ties with its own pipe band. The band’s P/M at the time decided to ‘go it alone’ because he was aware of the dearth of good tuition in the region.

The new West Fife Schools Pipe Band went on to become completely independent and evolved into a charity which provides piping a drumming tuition at £15 per month per player.

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We rely on tuition fees, gifts and grants to keep us going. The band is not affiliated to any particular school and as a consequence we do not qualify for any support or assistance from Fife Council. We have tried other schools but the expense and commitment of running a band seems to put people off. 

Your article mentions that schools are letting pupils down. In my experience, it is the councils that are letting pupils down.

Fife Council declined to help us, responding with the stock answer ‘Fife Council currently has no plans to….. I only remember the beginning of the sentence because I read it so often in the responses to every email I send them.

Get help for your band from the RSPBA’s fund – click here

Even the nice lady at the Scottish Schools Pipes & Drums Trust was surprised when the council refused to help us find a replacement pipe major and drum tutor. They couldn’t even attend a meeting with me and the Trust representative.

I suggested that our band could become attached to a school in the area, such as Woodmill High School, who I know are keen to start their own pipe band, having spoken to the head master and head of music there.

And I also know that there are three pupils there studying pipes for their Nat5 exams.

The response from Fife Council again went along the lines ‘Fife Council currently has no plans to…..’.

I share your concerns  highlighted in the article. It would be fabulous if the Scottish Executive’s aspiration were to be realised, but I doubt it ever will. Forgive my negativity, but I will attempt to explain below:

  • Piping and drumming tutors are scarce and are usually fully committed. Councils would need to source more. A central pool would be helpful, but no one will organise that.
  • Tutors will not take on school pupils without a stipend/remuneration of some kind. If there are no funds made available, then they won’t do it. 
  • Less well known bands have no chance of attracting teaching talent because here is no glory in coming last!
  • A cheap set of new pipes costs circa £700 or so. Parents would have to buy them because the schools can’t. For example, to save money, my son’s school has banned teachers from printing worksheets for their pupil’s home work. They have to send them via email and the pupils print them off themselves at home. 
  • Bands are folding not through lack of money, but through lack of support. West Fife Schools Pipe Band is trying to source a new drum tutor and pipe major. If we don’t succeed by the beginning of the competition season, we may have to fold too. Other school bands are struggling for numbers. I know of one other that is likely to fold before the start of the season. 

I hate to be a wet blanket, but my experience and dealings have coloured my opinion. Without councils being on-board and funds becoming available, nothing will change. 

If you are able to highlight our plight please let me know. 

  • If anyone can help Mr Rae please contact him on 07811 656281.
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