Proud day for pupils of new Arran pipe band

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Meet the new Arran Schools Pipe Band who will travel to their first competition on the mainland this weekend.

It is just three months since the formation of the band but the youngsters have been practicing their pipes and drums since August 2017 following the setting up of the Isle of Arran Music School.

All of the instruments are provided free of charge by the music school to the youngsters, meaning everyone can get involved. And, thanks to close ties with the adult Arran Pipe Band, the junior members should provide a steady supply of future pipers and drummers.

It all started with a desire to get piping tuition into the high school with a view to starting up a schools pipe band.

The first approach was to the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT) and, with matching private donations from Arran residents and organisations, the Isle of Arran Music School was set up with £60,000 of initial three-year funding.

This funding allowed the recruitment of two piping tutors from the mainland, which attracted a lot of interest and, after a full day of interviews, two young pipers, Ross Miller and Thomas Barnes from Glasgow, were hired to provide weekly lessons.

The music school and pipe band work hand in glove and are overseen by a committee, chaired by high school music faculty leader James O’Neil. The music school is a registered charity.

The committee was set up in August 2017 and has spent the past 18 months quietly going about the business of putting the nuts and bolts of the music school in place.

It was decided to go down the traditional music route and Postcode Lottery funding £18,000 helped them launch a clarsach project to complement the pipes and drums, which was launched in August last year.

Around 100 students on Arran are now engaged in traditional music making – a fifth of all children on the island. And the music school prides itself that there are ‘no barriers’ as it is free of charge to all young people.

The tuition is open to all P5 to second S6 pupils with an age range from nine to 17 years, and at a time when music tuition is under threat from budget cuts across the country, this is particularly welcome news.

Mr O’Neil said the music school has a good partnership with the primary and secondary schools with head teachers, Barry Smith and Shirley MacLauchlan, extremely supportive of the project. They also have a close working relationship with the pipe band and have had assistance from the North Ayrshire Council Music Service, as well as parents and supporters on the island.

As a result, the music school has been able to buy 12 sets of bagpipes at £600 each, eight snare drums at £400 each, two tenor drums and a bass drum. They have also purchased 11 clarsachs at a cost of £1,600 per instrument.

Members of the new junior pipe band made their first public appearance at the Arran High School Christmas musical showcase. And now, with just three months of practice, they are heading to their first competitive event this weekend.

A total of 27 young members will take part in the debut section of the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships tomorrow (Sunday) at Inveralmond Community High School in Livingston, where they will face competition from bands from all over Scotland.

Mr O’Neil said: ‘This is a really proud day for everyone involved. To see the youth of the island embracing the tradition of the pipes and drums is tremendous and the partnership working which has allowed it to happen has been a pleasure to have been involved in.’

Mr O’Neil, who has been on Arran for three and half years, said the committee now has to continue to look for funding for the music school with a view to introducing other traditional instruments in the future.

And as an indication of the wide community support, Mr O’Neil’s other ‘baby’, the Arran Soul Choir, recently donated all its takings from the prize draw at its recent sell-out concerts to the music school.

Mr O’Neil said: ‘I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has been involved in making the music school a success and hope to see many more youngsters on Arran being able to access high quality musical experiences.’

Pipe Major Malcolm Wheeler added: ‘The Isle of Arran Pipe Band has been involved with the set-up of pipes and drums tuition giving financial support and joining the committee running the traditional music school.

‘It is very rewarding to see the fruits of our and the tutors efforts with a pipe band of pupils capable of entering a competition on the mainland, representing the school. We wish them well and hope they all enjoy the experience. We look forward to this new crop of pipers and drummers joining our band.’