Lochaber Piping Society Report Concern Over Lack of Involvement of Local Youngsters

Prizewinners at Lochaber Juniors 2019

By Ken Cameron

Lochaber Piping Society has held its AGM and Open Meeting. No change in office bearers but we’re really happy to include James Rosie into the main body of the Committee and look forward to his input and energy. We have agreed on 28th March for our Youth Piping and Drumming Competition, with the venue again being Lochaber High School (although that has to be finalised).

Our main news is gaining financial support again from Jahama Highland Estates to cover the shortfall that is inevitable in running our competition. We will again seek sponsorship in kind from the piping industry for prizes and have been generously supported in this in past years. When the entry form is finalised, I’ll put one through to Piping Press.

In the Open Meeting which followed, discussion, inevitably, was mainly on how the Society could best encourage uptake of the instrument and improvement in the standard of playing among Lochaber youngsters.

Unfortunately there is no representation in the Society from our local schools where there is a piping tutor. In the 2019 competition, we had no piping or drumming competitors put forward by Lochaber schools and none were entered in the Local Mod either. By contrast, other Highland Council schools instructors brought youngsters from quite far afield.

The Society intends to increase its activities in the forthcoming year to include monthly (ish) social events featuring local musical input, plus formal recitals by external musicians, to include workshops. We hope these activities will bring in locals – especially youngsters.

After sending his report Mr Cameron agreed to expand on the Society’s work and background:

How long has Lochaber & District Piping Society been going for?
We don’t have an exact record of the start date, but around 65 years would be about right.

What’s your involvement and how is the Society made up?
I’ve been the Chairman for two years and the present Office Bearers are my wife, Rhona, who is the Secretary and Fiona Fotheringham who is the Treasurer. Neither Rhona nor I are pipers, but with our two sons playing we’ve been involved now for nearly 14 years in both band and solo events of all types and levels. Fiona plays for Deeside Caledonia. Within the small body of Committee Members and directly involved in piping are Moira Robertson and her husband Iain, who run Lochaber Pipe Band; Angus Nicolson, well-known piper and traditional musician, and just joined us is James Rosie, Pipe Sergeant of Oban Pipe Band.

Rhona and Ken Cameron

What are the main aims and activities of the Society?
The main aims at the moment include promoting uptake of the instrument and improving the standard of playing amongst young players in the Lochaber area. We recognise that, where Lochaber once had a thriving piping community, the area has fallen behind others, especially in the Highland region. In the belief that competition can improve standards, we run an annual Junior Piping and Drumming Competition. We also organise formal piping recitals and this year we are re-introducing regular, informal Society evenings.

You’ve just had an AGM. Apart from the usual formalities, what has been your main topic of discussion?
As the Society relies on sponsored funding, especially to run the Junior Competition, we are constantly looking each year for one or more benefactors and this year we have been extremely fortunate in securing financial sponsorship again from Jahama Highland Estates, who own and administer the water-catchment land area which supplies hydro-power to the aluminium smelter in Fort William.

Champions both….Finlay and Sandy Cameron, sons of Rhona and Ken

Having secured solvency, discussion then centred on how best to utilise our resources towards achieving our aims. Reflecting on the 2019 Piping and Drumming Competition, we acknowledged the high quality local entries put forward by their private tutors, but were forced to remark again on the low numbers. Although the competition attracted record entries, the majority by far came from outside Lochaber. Appreciation was shown for the efforts shown by other Schools Instructors, especially from Kyle, Skye, Oban and Ullapool, who brought along players from their areas and had good success.

Discussion followed on what could be done to reverse this situation. When approached previously, the Lochaber Schools Instructor cited lack of enthusiasm among her pupils for competing, as well as some of them having Saturday jobs and being thus unable to attend.

Young winners at the 2019 Lochaber Junior contest show off their medals

Comparison was made with Oban which has a very similar demographic to Fort William, yet has a thriving young piping community displaying extremely high standards of playing in both solo and band modes. Similarly, Kyle and Skye are thriving, while Ullapool had a new and energetic instructor last year, now changed. No conclusions were drawn on how to tackle the local situation.

Does the Society have any involvement with the Lochaber Gathering which as you know runs junior and senior professional events each summer?
No, we don’t have any official involvement in the Gathering, although a few of us give Allan MacColl a hand each year with stewarding. Allan does a fine job of organising the event, ably assisted by Kirsteen and we very much appreciate the event’s inclusion and deserved prominence in our local piping calendar.

And the future?
Difficult to predict, but we look forward to increasing our activities this year and we’ll see how that turns out.

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