The Piper's Dojo

Andrew McDougal.jpg

That's Andrew on the left.

Piper and dojo are two words that, we have to admit, we never thought we'd see in the same sentence. And yet, here they are-- together. The Piper's Dojo is an intensive school for bagpipers in the Capital Region.

Master piping sensei Andrew Douglas (just call him Andrew) drew a deep breath to talk with us about the dojo, the art of piping and the local pipe band culture (think the Jets and the Sharks in kilts).

So what is The Piper's Dojo?

Well, the idea for the school was originally inspired by Karate Dojos. The community approach and the step-by-step, goal-oriented process of learning was something that we wanted to embody in our new school.

So how is it different from the way you'd otherwise learn?

Usually, the pipes are learned individually with a private tutor, or they are learned as part of a pipe band. Both of these methods are, in my opinion, deeply flawed approaches. The private-tutor approach essentially shuts out the possibility of what I call the "osmosis effect." When it is just you and your teacher, you don't develop an aptitude for soaking in information from the outside world. Actually, what most commonly happens is that the student develops a total dependency on their teacher. They can't really become independent musicians in this way. They just become copies of their teacher.

The flaw in the pipe band approach is that the needs and goals of the band take precedence over the needs of the student. Major fundamentals are often skipped over, just to get the player in a kilt, "filling in the ranks" so to speak. Also, especially in the Capital region, there major (often bitter) rivalries between bands. Players with talent are often hoarded, and purposely kept from joining other bands - even if the joining of a new band would help the player become a better musician!

The Dojo's fresh approach transcends both approaches by utilizing the idea of community in the learning process. All players at the Dojo interact, regardless of age and ability level. You learn from the best pipers in the United States, and you learn from your peers. Just as you would in a school, or a martial arts studio. At the Dojo, the "osmosis effect" is built-in. And, there is no rush. Just music and learning.

You said there are "bitter rivalries" between bands. What's that about? Is there a whole pipe band culture?

Believe it or not, Albany is emerging as the focal point for bagpiping and pipe bands in the entire country. The Oran Mor Pipe Band (Albany) travels to Scotland every year to compete at the World Championships. Last year, the band took 4th place. The Scotia Glenville Pipe Band (Schenectady) is a band for kids under the age of 18. They too occasionally travel to Scotland. In 2006, they took third in the Juvenile grade.

The DoJo hopes to continue to teach beginning pipers diligently, so that anyone that wants to can have a chance to play bagpipes at a high level.

Who joins a piper dojo?

There will always be pipers that just want to learn so that they can play some parades and have a good time. However, for those who are serious about making music, the DoJo is the place to go.

How long does it take to learn to play?

Ha ha! Well, that depends. In the typical learning formats like private lessons or pipe bands, it usually takes about a year to learn the basic fingerings on our practice instrument (called the "chanter"), and then another six months or so to integrate the fingerings onto the full set of bagpipes. But, this length of time is extremely variable, depending on factors like: age, available time, available money, determination, previous musical experience, etc. The DoJo doesn't necessarily shorten the length of time it takes to learn the pipes, but it ensures that all of the fundamental skills are fully in place along the way.

Ummm, we're not sure how to ask this but-- are you having trouble with the neighbors?

Always! But, thankfully we have a great facility. The St. Andrew's Church in Albany is perfect, because it's central to the Capital District. The noise doesn't really bother anyone!

Some folks don't seem to "appreciate" bagpipes quite the way you do.  Some even find them annoying.  What's up with that?  What are they missing about bagpipes?

The reason people dislike the sound of bagpipes and the reason we've started this DoJo are one in the same - the level of musicianship among bagpipers is generally staggeringly low. The pipes, just like any other instrument in the world, sounds terrible when played poorly. At the Dojo, we are devoted to teaching people how to make real music come out of those things!!

Find It

The Piper's Dojo (St. Andrew's Church)
10 North Maine Avenue
Albany, NY 12203



You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a bag piper in this town.

This reader wants to know -- do they go commando??

...I always have to fight the urge to sneak a peek under a bagpiper's skirt.

@ abby - one, they are kilts, not skirts. Two, how would you react as a woman if everytime you wore one, men came up to shove their hands up your skirt?

Not only is it tacky it's harassment.

Hi Andrew! It's "the general" here. Congratulations on all your success! Great article, Mary!

Then there's the old/new joke about the American college freshman on her first trip abroad.She is fascinated by the kilted soldier on guard at the gate to Edinburgh Castle. After circling him a few times, she feels courageous enough to ask, :"Sir , do you wear anything under your kilt?" To which the soldier, still at attention, eyes straight ahead, responds, "Miss. ah'm a man of few words - gie me yer hand!"

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