In January 2006 I accepted a position at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy teaching their bagpipe program. I left St. Catharines and the Braemar organization that I had built with much trepidation. In Wisconsin I found a program that had struggled to find itself within the greater definition of Military School. Traditional bagpipe teaching curriculum and methods had not been effective in growing the program either in numbers or in quality. I modified my thinking and essentially turned the program on its head. After teaching the boys how to hold a practice chanter and play a correct scale, I immediatly started them blowing a bagpipe. I insisted they blow a decent-strength chanter reed however plugged the drones. I then taught simple tunes keeping the emphasis on blowing good tone and on playing in unison on the beat.
In very short order the program grew to the point where I was overwhelmed by the number of boys and mixed the classes (pipers at various levels, snare, tenor, and bass drummers all in the same class). In 2010 the school hired Sarajane Trier. Together we pushed the program further yet. Enrollment peaked at 100 boys. In March 2011 we took 56 boys to Alexandria Virginia to participate in their St. Patrick's Day Parade. The boys won Best Youth Band and Best in Parade, a truly notable accomplishment.
The following audio and video clips help demonstrate what is possible following these teaching methods. The SJNMA experience was interesting in that we took in about 100 boys each August, most new to playing any musical instrument at all. The goal was to provide them with a significant musical experience and to build a solid foundation for future learning. We also had a goal to put as many boys on parade and in performances on pipes and drums as possible. We would start each fall with about 20 returning from the previous school year.
These teaching methods are also effective on more mature students. It's all about building a foundation.
St. Patrick's Day Parade 2011 Old Alexandria VA Best Youth Band and Best in Parade 56 Pipers and Drummers