Lochalsh pipe band funding fears

KEITH MACKENZIE

An award-winning junior pipe band is fearing for its future, unless funding can be found to continue drumming tuition.

The Lochalsh Junior Pipe Band, which tasted success earlier this year at the Scottish Schools Championships in Edinburgh, currently has to pay a drumming instructor – who Highland Council employ to teach in the east of the region – out of their own band funds.
But the band is worried that current arrangements – which rely on local fundraising and small grant support – may not be feasible in the longer term. They would like to see the local authority extend their drumming instructor’s contract from four to five days to allow him to cover the Lochalsh patch, alongside his existing commitments in Ross-shire and Inverness.

Having been formed in 2007 as a group of pipers under the tuition of schools instructor Niall Stewart, the Lochalsh band initially added a small drumming core thanks to help from local musician Alasdair Murray. When he moved away, however, the band faced a situation two years ago when they had only one drummer. It was then an approach was made to the council’s east-Highland instructor Drew Caldwell, and he has since travelled to deliver tuition in Lochalsh schools, as well as with the pipe band, every Wednesday during term time.
The band’s drumming core has expanded to 10, with more beginners ready to start, and competition success has followed. Three junior bands from the Highland Council area competed at this year’s Scottish Schools Championships in Edinburgh – Lochalsh, Ross and Cromarty and the City of Inverness. The west coast band was the only one not to receive drumming tuition paid for by the local authority, but their victory was nevertheless hailed on Highland Council’s website.

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In recent months the Lochalsh band has competed at the European Pipe Band Championships in Forres and at the World Championships in Glasgow, as well as being a regular attraction at more local events.

Just under £7,000 a year is required to cover the drumming tuition and for the instructor’s travel expenses – a significant sum for the band, but perhaps less so for the council, say parents.

Pipe band chairman Sandy Murray said that since its formation the band has fundraised to the tune of £60,000 in order to sustain itself.

He added: “It has been great to see the progress and enthusiasm of all the band members, tutors, parents and committee since Drew has started working with the drummers.

“We certainly wouldn’t have made it to the European or World Pipe Band Championships without his help.”

Parent Krissy Lothian, whose ten-year-old son Seumas Matheson receives tuition at Auchtertyre primary, felt the group’s successes should be recognised.

She said: “Learning drumming and being in the pipe band has been great for Seumas and he has gained so much more than just drumming skills. It has given him loads of confidence, some wonderful experiences and a real sense of pride.  “He loves being a part of the band and himself and the other young drummers have shown an incredible amount of hard work and commitment  to reach the stage they have in such a short space of time.  “Their competition experiences in Edinburgh, Forres and Glasgow gave them a massive boost and they are so enthusiastic to improve and continue their success.

“It is lovely to see kids showing so much enthusiasm for something and I feel this should really be supported and encouraged now while they are doing so well.”

Despite the pleas,  Highland Council maintain that their hands are tied by finance.

A  spokesperson said: “Whereas the council is aware of Lochalsh Junior Pipe Band’s success and welcomes this, there is no opportunity within the existing music tuition budget to extend the pipe band drumming instructor’s contract due to budget constraints.”