The First Interview/Lesson

Stumped by the D-throw, I got on the googler and started looking for bagpiping instruction in Pittsburgh.  There were not very many promising leads but I found George Balderose of the Balmoral School of Pipes and Drums ( and I set up a interview/lesson with him at his house.

For the uninitiated, the D throw is the first of the embellishments a beginning piper will learn.  The bagpipe is a legato instrument and the chanter (the part that plays the melody) is separated from your mouth by the bag.  Unlike a trumpet or a saxophone, the player cannot separate notes of the same tone by tonguing , one has to play a gracenote or an embellishment.d-throw  In the case of the D-throw shown above, the idea is to play the triplet thingy on the beat quick as one can and then play the main D note.

At the beginning of the lesson, George asked me three questions:

  • Do you play any other instruments?  To which I was able to answer that my mother had forced me the play the piano as a small child, that I had been a fairly indifferent adolescent clarinet player, and that I had also played the guitar in my teens and 20’s.  One could assume from that, an ability to read music and at least a middle-aged Dad sense of rhythm.
  • Anyone in your family play the bagpipes?  Having done some family history, I knew that my great uncle was a piper and that he had served in the First War in the Royal Scots Fusiliers.  I also knew that my great-grandfather (his brother) had been a musician of some sort in the 5th Cameronians but did not know what he played.  Triangle perhaps?

At this George went to a giant set of bookcases and pulled down a small slim blue book and said “see if you can look them them up in this”.  He gave me a book titled: The Pipes of War: A Record of the Achievements of Pipers of Scottish and Overseas Regiments during the War of 1914-18.  Issued in 1920, in addition to a number of accounts of pipers in action, there were lists of all of the Scottish-styled regiments of the British Empire with names of pipers known to have served in them.  I found the uncle James McPhee in the RSF but did not see his brother Donald Stuart McPhee in the Cameronians.   Potentially some residual piping DNA existd in my makeup.

  • Are you interested in trying to be a really good player or happy to be be good enough the fool the general public?   I answered that I wanted to be the “best I could be!” (or some other enthusiastic cliche)

One that evidence, George took me on a pupil.

And we started to learn D-throws and the tune Scot’s Wha Hae.

Pipes of War can be downloaded at

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3 thoughts on “The First Interview/Lesson

Add yours

    1. George, great to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. That summer we had lessons, I had a block of time I could practice for about 3 hours a night. I remember that recital and remember being scared stiff! All the best.


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