History: Scottish School Exams in Piping

Seumas MacNeill and John MacLellan were, with John MacFadyen, instrumental in having the new exams adopted

Around fifty years ago the Institute of Piping met to formulate a plan that was transform the teaching of piping in Scotland. The Institute aimed to petition the Scottish Education Department to have the bagpipe accepted as an instrument in music exams.

The Institute had been formed by the Piobaireachd Society, the College of Piping and the Army School of Piping act as an examining body for the bagpipe. It was the forerunner of today’s Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board.

Prominent in the three founding organisations were John MacFadyen, Seumas MacNeil and John MacLellan.

Their joint effort bore fruit. In 1974 piping examinations were officially endorsed and schools in Scotland required to provide instructors for children who wanted to sit them.


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This article, headlined ‘Next an ‘O’ level in the bagpipes’ is from a newspaper at the time:

Scots school children may pass an ‘O’ level examination this year – on the bagpipes. So far, the pipes have been barred by the education authorities from the list of instruments they have approved for examinations – a list which includes the glockenspiel, tubular bells, Spanish guitar and the bongo drums.

Negotiations are still on-going between the Scottish Certificate of Education examination board and Scottish piping and teaching organisations grouped under the recently formed Institute of Piping.

It is hoped to have a syllabus for the pipes by June or July. The pipes have always been excluded because of various technical difficulties. For instance they cannot be integrated into an orchestra.

But with more than 400 children being taught piping in school hours, the education and piping authorities now feel that the demand justifies exam recognition.

The Institute, set up originally to make awards for piping and the teaching of piping, was formed from the Piobaireachd Society, the Army School Piping and the College of Piping in Glasgow.

Mr Seumas MacNeill, one of the Principals of the College said: ‘Nearly everything else in music is an orchestral instrument. If Bagpipes were in the orchestra there would be no problem.’

But he added: ‘Anyone who is studying musician school in Scotland should know something of the music of Scotland.

‘As it is they learn the music of Germany or France. There is a great culture of Highland bagpipe music.’

A spokesman for the Scottish Certificate if Education examination board said members were anxious to find means of adding bagpipes to the syllabus.

There had been no evidence of a substantial demand for the pipes to be added until discussions had started with the Institute of Piping.


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