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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Getting Started

I had always wanted to play the bagpipes since I can remember.  I was born and brought up in St. Thomas, a small city in southwestern Ontario.   One of earliest memories  was going downtown with my family to see the annual Santa Clause Parade.  Not sure whether it was more exciting to see Santa and the reindeer or the pipe band that preceded Santa down the street.  In 1961 or ’62, the band was sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion and became one of the best bands in Canada.

After 52 years and a couple of false starts, I started my piping journey.

In the summer of 2007, I was on a consulting assignment in Pittsburgh, PA working for the Siemens Large Drives Division and staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Monroeville four nights per week.  Once can only watch so much CNN – this was the perfect opportunity to learn a new musical instrument.

I started by hunting around on the internet and ran across Oliver Seeler’s The Universe of Bagpipes website (  This site has lots of info on how to get started and I highly recommend it (after of course, reading this blog).

As per Oliver’s recommendation on his site, I ordered a Dunbar long delrin practice chanter and I went with the first book of the John Cairns’ Bagpipe Solutions series.  That July 4th weekend, I was down at the Jersey Shore.  When the others went to the beach to roast in the sun, I kept my pink British skin indoors and learned all the notes.

Bagpipe Solutions by John Cairns

For those of you who have used the Bagpipe Solutions series, they are clearly written and great for those who think they can at least get started without a tutor.   By the end of the weekend, things were going swimmingly.  I had banged the notes and fingerings into my head and could basically sight read the drills and do what I thought were great G, D, and E gracenotes.

And then I turned the page, and it was the D throw.


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