After spending many years working with the Youth Band at ESMS, Steven Blake, Former Pupil and bagpipe teacher, has recently been appointed to the position of Director of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland. In his new role, Mr Blake is excited to create a significant impact on piping education and innovation across Scotland.
We decided to sit down virtually with Mr Blake to explore his thoughts on the importance of piping within Scottish schools.
As well as congratulate you on your new role, we would also like to use this as an opportunity to find out your own thoughts on piping in Scotland in general at the moment...
Generally speaking, it is a very exciting time for piping in Scotland. We are still helping to lead the way in not only maintaining high standards of education and performance but fostering an encouraging amount of innovation and experimentation within the discipline.
There have never been more opportunities available to young pipers, with degree programmes such as the BA Scottish Music - Piping offered by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in conjunction with the National Piping Centre and more performance routes to explore than ever before. The Pipe Band competition scene is thriving with impeccable standards and a global community. The solo piping competition scene is similarly showcasing exceptional new talent whilst maintaining our traditional repertoire. Finally, more pipers than ever are engaging with the wider musical world and the traditional music scene, helping to both create new repertoire as well as shining a light on some of our oldest material.
The long overdue conversation about equality and diversity within piping also feels like it has finally started in earnest and whilst we have some way to go in making sure everyone feels welcomed and included in our community we are heading in the right direction.
It is an exciting time to be a piper with more opportunities than ever before. However, I believe that school and youth pipe bands remain the essential foundation to this ecosystem. For most young people, pipe bands are the way in to this tradition.
Do you think that piping in Scotland has been impacted by the Coronavirus crisis?
The COVID-19 situation has obviously had a huge impact with the postponement of the major competing and performance events which were scheduled for this summer. Although, this pause has also highlighted the value of community which pipe bands provide to many people throughout the country and the world and I think school communities are no exception to this.
Consequently, I have been running an online ‘practice club’ open to ESMS pipers as a chance to reconnect on a weekly basis and I have been pleased to see such an enthusiastic uptake. From my experience at ESMS I know that pipe bands offer an additional community to be a part of, one even more bespoke than that of the sporting itineraries and larger scale school activities.
How important do you think it is for Scottish schools to play a role in supporting youth pipe bands?
Piping in Scottish schools is so special because it’s ours. Piping has a unique relationship to Scotland and I cannot think of another aspect of school life at ESMS which offers more of a connection to Scottish tradition and culture.
We must support youth pipe bands on a national level. Independent Scottish Schools such as ESMS have maintained a consistent support to their pipe bands and doing so has not only helped to perpetuate the tradition at a high standard but has also provided additional opportunities to a select group of young pipers. I myself was lucky enough to attend Stewart’s Melville College on a music scholarship and not only enjoyed excellent tuition from Robert Burns alongside all of the benefits of the pipe band but I also had a terrific experience as a pupil at SMC and still feel part of the school community.
The Pipe Band offers a unique experience at ESMS. You are part of a relatively small group of students at the school working together to prepare for concerts, competitions and tours. You also play a role in the school community, whether it is helping to celebrate the successes of a sports team at a big final, open community events such as Sports Day and open days or help to mark sombre occasions such as Remembrance Day. Youfeel a strong connection to the school community.
Do you hope to keep in touch with the ESMS band in future?
I hope to keep in touch with the ESMS community and if I can offer any assistance in my new role as Director of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland, I will do so gladly.
The National Piping Centre offers seasonal schools which I hope to see some ESMS pupils at during school holidays. I also hope to see some of you at NYPBoS outreach events and performances. Finally, I hope to see ESMS pipers and drummers at Glasgow’s Piping Live Festival.
Thank you to Mr Blake for taking the time to sit down with us virtually to discuss piping within Scottish schools. We would like to say a huge congratulations on your new position wish you the best of luck for the future.
Click here to find out more about Steven's exciting new role with the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland!