I just got back from Brantford, where I spent a day attending four workshops on various aspects of piping. I took two classes from Michael Grey, one on the history of piping in Ontario and how it is descended from the Cameron School (which ties back to Patrick Og MacCrimmon), and one on canntaireachd and piobaireachd, which was fun and surprisingly practical. Then I attended a class with Ellen Mole, who taught us some execution techniques which especially helped with my tachums. And then I had a class learning competitive reels with Bob Worrall. In between, we were served a fantastic lunch (and I make here a full confession: I broke down and ate a pulled pork sandwich in spite of myself, the first in two years. I'm a semi-vegetarian, but I just couldn't ignore that yummy smell.) The evening wrapped up with a brief concert by Willie McCallum. All of this amazingness was sponsored by the Paris Port Dover Pipe Band.
Now for people who don't play the bagpipes, the above names may not mean anything to you. These are some of the top players, not just in Canada but in the world. I can't believe my luck, to live in a place where such opportunities are available. It's a bit mindboggling. Between classes we stood around a refreshment table, chatting, and I couldn't help telling Michael Grey and Bob Worrall, "I can't believe I'm standing here eating doughnuts with the gods of piping!" This is the sort of stuff you tell your great-grandchildren.
After this long day, the teenage boys in our group were giddy and bouncy, pumped with adrenalin. You sure don't see that after they spend eight hours at school. You could just see the enthusiasm, the twitching of the fingers, the realization that they had a rightful place in the group - they weren't just tagging along with the adults; perhaps there was the beginning of an understanding that they were the key to carrying this whole enterprise and history forward.
I came away wanting to learn canntaireachd in more depth, wanting to sit at these people's feet and soak up every bit of what they know, wanting to play more. You can't help but feel that if you were exposed to that kind of instruction more often, you would really grow by leaps and bounds. You couldn't help but soar.
There is something fundamental and - what's the word I want? Inherent? Visceral? - about a big group of people sitting around playing traditional folk music together. There is a sudden bond with these unknown people, a feeling of identity, of ancientness and timelessness, of sharing a common heritage. But there's also a strange feeling of "If the world ends in a zombie apocalypse and we're reduced to sitting around a fire eating locusts and lichen, we will still be able to produce our own music." Maybe that quality - being drawn to beauty, to creativity - is the core of being human. We are the keepers of the culture, the ones who will pass the traditions down to the next generation - not just the piping, but the history and the values and the quirkiness and the sheer determination of our predecessors. From what I could see today, the next generation is receptive, talented, and more than capable of carrying it on. The future is in good hands.