Unschooling the Bagpipes More Than Mere Music Lessons

5 07 2008

You know about always-unschooled Young Son’s new learning passion, the great highland bagpipes? There’s so much to learn musically and technically and it’s all so “foreign” for him, compared to anything he’s experienced before — no doubt part of the attraction. 🙂

He first was drawn to this music because his beloved Boston Red Sox — especially Papelbon — are fans of these guys, then decided he wanted not just to hear it but play it. Ahem. Favorite Daughter’s childhood love affair with opera was EASY to unschool compared to this!

So he learned to read musical notation for this instrument, which is a little eccentric, to finger and time the notes while mouthing and blowing, all to play the detached chanter, which is (sort of) like a little clarinet. He played joyously every single day and learned several short pieces of bagpipes music by heart.

But unlike the clarinet, with the bagpipes that’s all only preparation, not a destination. Now he is the proud owner of a fine set of great highland bagpipes and he can’t do a thing with them! One night his pipemaster was teasing him about all the learning still ahead, handling and holding the darn things comfortably, tuning the drones without dropping them or bashing them into something, blowing without fainting AND squeezing out a steady sound AND fingering the right notes with both hands.

It’s like wrestling a giant octopus, with one of its too many tentacles firmly clamped over your mouth and nose so you’re on the verge of passing out the whole time.

Then just when the young piper thinks he’s making real progress, a new trick is presented in his lessons — managing to march while playing, apparently a whole new source of devilish amusement for your teachers and mentors!

Complicated as all that is, it’s still arguably directed at learning various physical skills. But a recent evening took off toward a new level — what to do with it all, once the beleaguered body parts can come together in some fledgling ability to perform. What happens the first time someone asks you to play for an audience? Do you do just what you’ve been studying in your lessons and homework, only dressed better?

Are you crazy?? 😉

And that’s where the learning went from academic to art, all the human power of story in pipe music and how to present it to people so they can enjoy and appreciate it, what it all means and how to be a worthy conduit for the music while giving your audience a fair chance to start learning to like it too, without hitting them over the head with it and making them wish to teleport themselves (or you!) to a galaxy far away. 🙂

His Scottish-born and bred pipemaster said none of this literally, probably doesn’t think of it quite this way — he’s a professional performer himself, not an academic — but watching and listening to the two of them last night, teacher and learner, the laddie and the legend, artist and apprentice both absorbing each other’s experience through the pipes (or experiencing the pipes through each other’s absorption?) transported ME.

What a privilege. What a lesson for any parent, what a performance of real learning, real life.

Great Highland Unschooling.



7 responses

5 07 2008

Dropkick Murphys? You better be careful or next thing you know he’ll be a working class New England democrat 😉

BTW, if he likes the Dropkick Murphy’s you might also point him towards Black 47, a NYC based Irish punk band, although they have a more Irish / less punk formula.

5 07 2008

Just like his dad. 🙂

We were watching the Boston Pops last night when the “choreographed” fireworks suddenly started dancing to “Shippin’ Up to Boston” and I had two very happy guys on my hands. They had just been grousing about how country belonged in the South part of America and so Rascal Flats should be in Houston or Atlanta for the Fourth instead of in John Adams’ backyard, weren’t the DropKick Murphys available that night?

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